Date: 10th - 12th September, 2016
The European Pinball Championship (or EPC) is the continents biggest competitive event and it is held in a different country each year. Last year we were in Belgium and the year before that in Italy, but for 2016 we headed to the Polish city of Łódź and the Port Łódź shopping centre.
Port Łódź is an out-of-town shopping centre a few miles south-west of the centre of Łódź. It is a large complex with DIY stores, a supermarket, computer and electrical outlets, plenty of ice cream and coffee shops, and a food court.
Unfortunately there are no good-quality hotels in the immediate neighbourhood of Port Łódź. We stayed at a pleasant guest house which was around a 20-minute walk away which proved to be no problem given the lovely weather. We also spent one night at the nearest hotel which is the Willa Marina, located just across the street from the shopping centre. We could say it has seen better days, but in truth it probably hasn't.
In the middle of the shopping centre is a circular courtyard with more food and drink stalls, and some outside seating. It was in a former Marks & Spencer unit that the Polish organisers had set up the tournament and free play machines for this year's EPC.
Being a former clothing and housewares store the interior was brightly lit, with a large open-plan layout which made the whole unit feel very spacious.
As players entered through the main set of doors, the registration desk was on the right. It was here that the 149 registered entrants signed-in and collected their commemorative bags containing promotional fliers, their player badge, a pair of lanyards and a guide to the city of Łódź.
The rest of the unit was split into five areas.
The first of these was the free-play machine zone. This is where the twenty practice machines were set up for people to play before and after their qualifying round.
The free-play machines were:
Sadly, with one or two notable exceptions, the condition of these free-play machines was not great. Some never seemed to work all weekend, while others had problems such as missing parts, weak flippers, reset issues or simply had no credits for much of the time.
There were also two more free-play games. One was an Indiana Jones which was demonstrating the PinSound customisable sound board and was part of the PinSound stand. The other was a Bride of Pinbot 2.0 which was only available to play at certain times.
Behind the PinSound stand was the area used for the '80s Tournament which was the 'classics' tournament at this year's EPC.
Eight machines were used for the '80s Tournament, although one of them was actually a '90s machine. The machines were:
Competitors could play one game on any four of the eight machines. Those scores were ranked alongside all the other scores on those machines and points awarded. The top 16 scorers would qualify for the play-offs on Saturday night.
To the right of the PinSound stand was the organisers' desk which is where the trophies and the current standings were on display.
The scores and standings were shown on projector screens at the organisers' desk.
Guests could buy commemorative EPC mugs or T-shirts. The mugs were 25 Zloty ($6.48/€5.80/£5.00) and the T-shirts twice that price.
In addition to the main EPC, Team Tournament and '80s Tournament, there were three single-machine side tournaments taking place.
The Lorneta Challenge and Crossroads Show were held on a High Speed 2 and a Roadshow respectively.
Those two machines were positioned to the right of the organisers' desk.
A High Speed 2: The Getaway machine was used for the Lorneta Challenge but players had to wear distorting goggles while playing.
The left and right flipper buttons were swapped on the Crossroads Show Roadshow game, with players forbidden from crossing their arms while playing it. EPC competitors could have one entry in both tournaments, and the highest scorers on each machine would win the trophies.
There was another high score tournament. This one was the Whoa Nellie! Challenge. No prizes for guessing which machine was used for this one.
The game cost 2 Polish Zloty ($0.50/€0.46/£0.40) to play, with unlimited attempts allowed during show hours. At the end of the EPC the player with the highest score would win.
The right side of the main room was where the EPC tournament machines were set up. The 27 games were divided into three pools of nine, with each pool containing eight tournament machines and one reserve.
The pools were:
Each player was put into a group of 12 and played a single game against each of the other players in the group.
Players were allocated to one of the pools - A, B or C - and played all their matches in that zone. The list of matches and the machines to be played were shown on the reverse of each player's badge and also on a board next to the entrance to the pool.
Some groups played their matches on the Friday, but the majority played during the three time slots on Saturday.
A win in a match earned a player 1 point while a loss earned them a zero. Once all eleven rounds had been played the four players with the most wins progressed to the play-off rounds on Sunday.
If there were ties for any of the qualifying positions, the number of wins each tied player had over the other tied players was used to determine who qualified. If that still failed to break the tie, a single play-off match was played.
Beyond the EPC zones was a 'chill-out' area - a darkened room with soft seating and two table football (foosball) games. There was also a Demolition Man game set up in there, but this never seemed to be powered-up.
The final zone was behind one of the banks of free-play practice machines, and it contained the four machines used for the Team Tournament: Mustang Pro, Roadshow, Johnny Mnemonic and WWE Wrestlemania Pro.
These machines were also used on Sunday for the main EPC play-offs as a 'Zone D' area.
Here's a chance to look around the EPC venue during qualifying on Saturday afternoon in our exclusive Six Minute Tour.
In the main EPC tournament, each round was given 3.5 hours to complete their eleven matches before the following round began. Although that didn't leave much time for machine maintenance or adjustments, this seemed to generally work well with only around a 15-20 minute delay in some areas by the time the last round began at 4pm on Saturday.
When the final round was completed, the 52 qualifiers who would play in Sunday's play-offs were known along with the 12 players with the most wins who would get a bye through the first round. They were all listed on the projector screen.
Because the type is rather small and indistinct on the screen, here's the list.
In cases where players were tied for a bye position, their IFPA ranking was used as the deciding factor rather than having any kind of play-off.
The final tournament event on Saturday evening was the final of the EPC Team Tournament.
Twenty-nine teams of three took part and they were mostly - but not entirely - groups of players with the same nationality. Each team played one game on the four Team Tournament machines, with every player playing one ball of the game. Games could be played at any time from 3pm on Friday until 6pm on Saturday. The scores were ranked with the top eight teams qualifying for the play-offs.
In the play-offs the teams were paired-up and played the machines again. The first team to get two wins moved on to the semi-finals.
The Team Tournament also gave the Polish repair team a chance to work on the games which would be used for the main EPC play-offs the next day, fixing any faults and cleaning them up.
The two teams who then contested the final were Hungary 2 (Sandor Varga, Tamas Odler & Balázs Pálfi) and Sweden (Jorian Engelbrektsson, Jörgen Holm & Marcus Hugosson). The final was played as a single two-player match on Bride of Pinbot 2.0.
In the end it was a victory for the Swedes, leaving Hungary 2 in second place and Team France (Franck Bona, Willy Sachet & Philippe Bocquet) in third.
Here are the results for all 29 teams taking part:
The fun wasn't over though, because the EPC organisers had arranged an evening at a music club in the centre of Łódź. A bus was also booked to ferry everyone from Port Łódź to the New York Music Club.
The twenty minute ride took us to Piotrkowska in the centre of Łódź.
Entry to New York Music Club was 10 PLN (or roughly $/€/£ 2). A raised seating area had been reserved for EPC guests with a great view of the stage where an excellent covers band was performing AC/DC, Tom Petty and Neil Young songs along with many other classic tracks.
Not surprisingly we weren't out of bed too early on Sunday morning and so missed the first rounds of the '80s Tournament play-offs which began at 8:30am.
The format saw the sixteen qualifiers split into four groups of four players. It was a harsh cut with the four in each group playing a single match on one machine where only the top scorer continued to the final. The remaining players were ranked according to their qualifying position.
The four who made it to the final were Julio Vicario Soriano, Jorian Engelbrektsson, Daniele Baldan and Giuseppe Violante. They played on three machines: Fire!, Cyclone and Earthshaker! using a 7-5-3-0 scoring system.
Julio won on Fire!, with Daniele second, Jorian third, and Giuseppe fourth.
The order of the top two were swapped on game two, Cyclone, with Daniele winning and Julio second.
With Jorian on six points and Giuseppe yet to score, only Daniele or Julio could win. If Jorian won game three on Earthshaker! he could take second if either Daniele or Julio failed to score a point.
It was an incredibly tight final game, with all the scores between 1.47M and 2.94M, but it was Giuseppe who won it to give himself a total of 7 points. Jorian's game was interrupted by a tournament official standing too close, and with no possibility of winning the tournament he walked away from his third ball mid-game to end on 6 points.
Between the two contenders to be the overall winner, Daniele took second place on Earthshaker! with his 2.347M narrowly beating Julio's 2.161M, thus earning him first place in the tournament. Julio was second, Giuseppe third and Jorian fourth.
Here's the full result of the '80s Tournament:
All eyes were then on the final rounds of the main EPC tournament.
The 52 qualifiers included 12 who skipped the first round of play-offs, leaving 40 players to play head-to-head best-of-three pairs matches.
The 20 winners from the first round were joined the 12 players with a bye for round two which was played in the same way.
The 20 losers from round one entered the loser bracket where they played head-to-head single games to determine who continued in the loser bracket and who went out of the tournament.
This system continued as the thirty-two players in the main winners' bracket were reduced to sixteen, then eight, then four, and then two.
In the loser bracket the single game matches eventually reduced the number of players remaining to two. These two joined the two from the winners' bracket to make a four-player final.
The four finalists were Jorian Engelbrektsson and Konrad Masłowski from the winners' bracket, and Daniele Acciari and Cesare d'Atri from the losers'.
The final would be played on four machines. These were brought into the open so everyone could crowd around and watch.
The machines would be played from left to right, starting with The Walking Dead. This was followed by World Cup Soccer, Terminator 2, and finishing with the newest game, a Ghostbusters Limited Edition.
Points would be awarded for position on each game, with nine points for a win, five points for second and two points for third. The player with the most points after Ghostbusters would be the overall winner.
The Walking Dead worked out well for Daniele as he took first place and nine points on game one. Jorian was second to score five points, while Konrad was third.
So the scores after the first game were:
Game two on World Cup Soccer mixed things up a bit as Jorian put up a huge 2 billion score early on which sealed the win. The remaining three were all close together around the 500 million mark, with Cesare leading the pack ahead of Daniele, with Konrad in fourth.
The third game was Terminator 2 and Cesare built on his previous second place to win this game.
Jorian continued his record of always being in the top two by coming second, while Konrad gathered the remaining two points in third place.
Going into the last game of the final, Jorian was five points ahead of Cesare who in turn was three points up on Daniele. The best Konrad could hope for now was third, and that relied on him winning game four and Daniele getting no points.
The current leader, Jorian, played first.
Although none of the scores were exceptional, Jorian's 69.1 million was more than double his nearest rival and gave him the win on Ghostbusters.
Daniele is often a master of the last-minute comeback, but it eluded him this time as Konrad's 25.9 million was enough for second place ahead of Daniele's 20.9 million.
Cesare meanwhile had an unhappy time and only scored 5.8 million on the last game and no points.
With two wins and two second places in the final, Jorian was the clear winner of the EPC 2016.
Daniele's third place on Ghostbusters meant Cesare kept second overall, while Konrad couldn't quite get the first place he would have needed to take third and ended up fourth.
Then it was time for the presentations of trophies and cash prizes.
Here are the full results of the main EPC tournament.
Jorian also won €500 ($560/£430) for taking first place, while Cesare took home €300 for second. Daniele collected €200 for his third place. Daniele also won the Fair Play award and topped the table of scores on Whoa Nellie! to win that tournament too.
The Lorneta Challenge side tournament played using distorting goggles on the Getaway machine was won by Morten Petersen.
The other side tournament, the Crossroads Show using a reverse-flipper Roadshow machine was won by Marcin Jaśkiewicz who wasn't present to collect his trophy.
Thanks to all the organisers and players who made this year's EPC a very special time.
We rounded-off this trip with a return visit to the centre of Łódź to get some late Sunday night dinner.
We headed to an area called Manufaktura - a renovated industrial area which as been turned into large open plaza fronted by a large glass shopping mall and surrounded by long brick building housing shops, restaurants, art galleries, clubs and bars.
Although the plaza was largely deserted late on Sunday night, you can easily imagine this being a lively and vibrant place on Friday and Saturday evenings.
We returned home the next day after an enjoyable, entertaining and enlightening visit to Łódź.
© Pinball News 2016