A Pinhead’s Paradise – 2019 Texas Pinball Festival Review

Pinball enthusiasts from around the world gathered last weekend at Texas Pinball Festival in Frisco, an annual event centered around the classic game. This year, we were invited to see what the commotion was all about. Tournaments, celebrity meet and greets, and panels were among the long list of what the convention had to offer.

I didn’t quite understand the extent of pinball fandom until I arrived at the Frisco Hotel Convention Center. People donning custom pinball uniforms were walking down the sidewalk, and there was hardly a spot to park. At that point, I realized that this was going to be much more intense than I had anticipated.

A long line of gamers meandered almost all the way into the hotel lobby. First lesson learned, preorder tickets. The line for those that had was much shorter and also allowed you to check out a couple of awesome vendors while waiting. Actor John Rhys-Davies, best known for playing Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, had a table set up across the arcade entrance to meet with fans.

As you entered the gaming area, it was sensory overload. Lights, bells, and laughter echoed through the large convention area. Over 450 pinball machines and classic arcade games were brought in for the event. I had taken my two young children with me and was somewhat concerned that they might be a bit unwelcome due to the level of gameplay, but it didn’t take long to see that Texas Pinball Festival is for everyone. Is there some serious gaming taking place? Absolutely. That said, there were ample games available to accommodate the huge number of attendees. People were generally considerate and abided to unspoken rules. Once your game ended, you yielded it to another person and went in search of a new challenge. It was family friendly, but the atmosphere definitely revolved around the mutual respect attendees had for one another.

My children and I were able to play about fifteen different types of pinball machines without any issues. They were mesmerized by their first experience playing pinball and quickly became addicted to it. We had only planned on staying a short while, but we unknowingly ended up playing for hours. The only downside to having short children is that most of the games did not have stools, so I had to hold them up to play. They didn’t mind, but my poor biceps did. After some time, we visited the back section where they housed older arcade games. We spent another hour trying out a number of classic games, some that I have never seen before. My five-year-old child managed to make the high score chart on a bowling game, whereas I achieved nothing.

The vendors were about as diverse as the gaming selection. They had pinball machine replacement parts, machine buttons that serve as nightlights, and even a photo op with actors/vehicles from The Munsters. There was also a food court area outside where hordes of people grabbed drinks and discussed their gaming experiences.

For the more advanced group, Texas Pinball Festival offered panels with some of the top names in the industry. Designers and players alike held panels to discuss their areas of expertise. Tournaments were held throughout the weekend to allow attendees to showcase their skills.

After almost four hours, we had barely made a dent in the amount of games and machines that we wanted to conquer. Both children were in tears as I tried to herd them out of the building to go home. Texas Pinball Festival is unquestionably a hidden gem amongst DFW’s growing convention list. While it may have come to a close, we will be sharpening our skills and knocking a bit of rust off our flippers in anticipation of next year’s event!