In the first forty minutes of this video Keith Elwin and Bowen Kerins, two World Pinball Champions, master the most difficult Multiball in pinball. I will be watching this National Championship game of Fish Tales a lot in the future, but it will be like learning another pinball language. A language wherein the boat captive ball does not kill you immediately when the Super Jackpot is lit.

Before we begin, I feel I have to write the following statement, since this is the Internet. I enjoy Fish Tales. I think it is a fun game to play and it has a GREAT soundtrack. Fish Tales is an intense test of a pinballer’s skill and luck. Below is an analysis of my personal struggles and frustrations with it. Pinballers with better skill and accuracy than myself may not have had these experiences. Your mileage/kilometrage may vary. Anyway, here we go.

I just cannot comprehend how some pinballers can score 4 billion points or more on Fish Tales. Sure, I can understand the process and the strategies needed to possibly accomplish it. There are even videos of champion players doing that for all to see. However, given the difficulty of the shots on Fish Tales, plus the randomness that can result from the Target of Death and the captive ball, I am amazed at how the top players can survive to get to this level of scoring.

It is my contention that Fish Tales is the most difficult multiball in pinball. Let’s look at what you need to accomplish to get your ultimate reward.


The key to the gates of Valhalla, AKA that stoopid Casters Club…

Before we even talk about Jackpots, the Multiball in Fish Tales is super difficult to start in the first place. The picture above shows one of the key shots of the game, the Casters Club lock shot.

The Target of Death

However, before you even get the opportunity to start your journey to the promised land, you have to deal with that dastardly target that guards the lock. The shot itself is already difficult enough. But, the first time you make the shot, the Target of Death will be there to test your skill and luck.

This target is a drain shot. If you hit it too perfectly, the ball will rocket back at you straight down the middle. If you miss, you risk hitting one of the rubbers or targets that are guarding the lock like a group of bouncers at a bar, ready to send the ball directly toward an outlane. Regardless, the first lock shot that you attempt WILL put you in trouble.

Three Tough Lock Shots

Let’s assume that the Target of Death has granted you mercy and let you live. Your next task is to make three more high-difficulty lock shots to earn the privilege of starting Multiball. These three shots don’t score many points at all. So, you are taking a risk by ignoring other goals on the playfield and concentrating on the locks.

(As an aside, if the Fish Tales you are playing is set to pop the Target of Death back up after each lock, then … that’s just pure evil.)

The Alternate Routes

There are two alternate routes to get to Multiball other than the locks. One involves the Mystery Award at the Fish Finder saucer. If you happen to get it there, then you get launched into the Multiball battle immediately. You can also light the captive ball boat awards by shooting the right orbit when it’s lit. If you can light all five, then you get Instant Multiball as the last boat award by shooting the captive ball five times. But, I’ll talk about the diabolical captive ball later…

Let the battle begin!


A third ball? REALLY? Hmm…
“Evette” from Clue: The Movie

After the third successful lock, hurray! It’s Multiball time! But there no rest for the wicked. Three balls get flung back at you like … well, like a fisherman casting fishing lines. Your first task is to control at least two of them, so you can stay in Multiball and battle the Casters Club again.

Sure, there is a third ball there. But, unless you are Keith Elwin and can control that one too, the third ball is just a red herring. It’s there to block you and get in the way of the other two balls as they rattle around in the little confined space that the playfield provides for you.

Once you have two balls in control, your next mission is to lock one of them to light the Jackpot, and then shoot the left spinner to the upper-right saucer to collect it. Watch out, though. The Target of Death is back to regulate by stopping your first good lock shot and sending the ball dangerously back at you again.

<< Sure, you COULD get two balls in the lock and shoot the third ball into the upper-right saucer to get a Double Jackpot. I’ve done this … once … ever. It felt really special. >>

Anyway, so you say you got a Jackpot, did you? Well, congratulations! But that was just ONE. You need THREE to get to the SUPER Jackpot stage. Plus, guess what reward you get for scoring a Jackpot… Both balls are now out of control again! You had better handle that so you can go back to shooting that lock for another Jackpot attempt.

By the way, the music and sounds get more intense as you progress through Multiball. Big respect to Chris Granner, who produced the music and sounds on Fish Tales, for creating seven different multiball jingles, when most casual players will only hear the first one. Incidentally, my favorite is stage three, Deep Sea Fishing because it lets me know I am “on-the-doorstep” to fabulous points.


Deep Sea Fishing

FishTales Logo-2

Head to the top, for Jackpot!

Even though you need three Jackpots to activate the SUPER, you don’t need to do it in one Multiball. When you drop out of multiball, you can continue at the stage you left off. Thank goodness for that!

Tangent alert…

Here is a recent picture of a Grand Champion score I put up on a Fish Tales at Jackbar in Brooklyn, NY.

There were a grand total of ZERO Super Jackpots involved in attaining that score. That’s right, ZERO! I collected only ONE REGULAR JACKPOT for 30 Million, and I also claimed only one Monster Fish during this (maybe two – I’m not sure).


A bittersweet Grand Champion score.

Here is what happened:

I decided before  starting this game that I would concentrate on Multiball. The Multiball on Fish Tales is such an exciting feature to be in, and even though I don’t do well while playing it, I thought I needed the practice. So, no Monster Fish for me. My attention went toward locking balls for Multiball, and making progress toward Instant Multiball, so I could get Jackpots.

What followed was over 50 minutes of frustration, full of shot-bricking and wood chopping. The path to the Caster’s Club lock shot never felt so small, and the Target of Death was a formidable opponent. What kept me alive through this was I always made sure to get the extra ball while in video mode and light the extra ball target next to the lock. That way, at least one of my bricks would be profitable. After a while, playing the game began to feel like a job that I was struggling through. But, each time I would start Multiball either from the boat or the locks, I felt that maybe this time I’ll do it right. Maybe this time.

It’s not like I didn’t have the opportunities presented to me. I even got good at live catching the ball on the left flipper when it travelled back through the left spinner. The shots were there, I just didn’t make enough of them at the right time… for nearly an hour.

Since the captive ball awards the video mode and lights the extra ball, it’s clear that on this day, the captive ball was relatively merciful. Perhaps if I were accurate enough to reach the Super Jackpot stage, maybe I would have experienced the rare pleasure of a 2 Billion+ Fish Tales score. But it was not to be. Instead I had to settle for the consolation prize of SEVENTEEN Rock Boats (!) and a Grand Champion score that I am sure will be taken down in short order.

And now… on with the show.


The captive ball… and ultimate victory?

Ultimate Fisher?

Once you finally claim three Jackpots, the game’s ultimate award is ready for you to take down. Now that you are at the Super Jackpot stage, with all its light-flashing loudness and super-exciting repetitive music, you find yourself at the mercy of the captive ball. All you have to do, is smash the captive ball into the boat target while still in Multiball to claim the Super Jackpot. You get the chance to do this over, and over and over again as long as you are still in Multiball! Does this feature cause unbalanced scoring? YES! Is it a gamebreaker? ABSOLUTELY! But, given what you’ve just went through, you deserve each and every single one of those unbalanced, gamebreaker, Super Jackpot shots! It’s the only way to get those legendary scores in the billions.

However, that doesn’t mean you will get any of those Super Jackpots. We don’t always get what we deserve, no matter how hard we try for it, work for it or wish for it to happen. When you finally light up the Super Jackpot, and you can calm yourself down because it’s lit and the game is screaming at you with an intense, hurry-up like musical jingle, each shot to the boat captive ball is a drain shot.

Captive Dice Rolls

In my history with Fish Tales, I have not had much luck at all with the captive ball when the Super Jackpot is lit. Often, I’lFishTalesDecall have both balls trapped on a flipper, ready to take my shot at the ultimate prize. Sometimes, I’ll hit the captive ball squarely and get the Super, but the ball rockets straight down the middle and multiball ends. Other times, I’ll hit the captive ball just a little off center which causes the ball to glance off one of the rubbers and head directly down one of the outlanes. My highest score ever on this game was just over 1.5 billion. In that game, which happened many years ago, the captive ball allowed me to live through two Supers for 100 Million. I was then able to work through the second level of Jackpots and claim one Super for 200 Million. That’s it. This game finally happened after over two and a half hours of retries.

Going for Multiball also means you are making a decision to steer away from getting Monster Fish, which is the safer play. By going all-in with Multiball you can potentially score billions, but if you fail while in Multiball, you could end up with jack. However, if you are playing someone who destroys the Multiball in this game and gets those billions, you are forced to do the same and the game becomes one-dimensional (like in the video above.)

Is it the hardest Multiball?

I’ve tried thinking of games that might have a more difficult Multiball than Fish Tales. Note that I am talking about just standard Multiballs themselves and not wizard modes. Of course wizard modes are hard to get to, but the modes themselves will have all shots lit where you can just fling the ball at stuff and it scores points. Fish Tales Multiball is always there for you … if you can consistently hit some of the most ball-breaking shots in pinball. But if you fail, you get nothing and like it.

One serious contender may be Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

  • It has lightning flippers that are standard to the game just like Fish Tales.dracula_BG
  • It’s also a “feast or famine” game where you could score in the billions or get jack depending on how well you do in Multiball.
  • Just like Fish Tales, it also has no “Wizard Mode.”
    • Dracula’s ultimate feature is the 30 Million, Triple Multi-Multiball where the entire playfield is tripled.
    • Fish Tales’ ultimate feature is the Super Jackpot stage.

However, BSD has three different Multiballs that you can stack on top of each other. All you need is to get one started and you can use it to build toward the other multiballs. Plus, the shots needed to get to any of the Multiballs aren’t nearly as difficult as FT, you just need to make more of them.

There must be a game that I haven’t thought of, so I’d like to hear from you.

  • When analyzing what you have to do and given the risk/reward factors involved, what is the most difficult Multiball you have played through?
  • Do you think it’s tougher than what you have to survive in Fish Tales?
  • How do you feel about the unbalanced nature of the Super Jackpot stage?
  • Hey, do you even like Fish Tales in the first place?

>>Twitter @FunWithBonus<<

The Gamebreaker

The next time you play Fish Tales, try to get all of the remaining center boat awards flashing on the captive ball shot. The more that are flashing the better. Then, start Multiball via the three locks. If you can make it to the Super Jackpot level without hitting the captive ball by mistake, then you have just started the Gamebreaker for this game.

During Multiball, you can still collect the center boat awards by hitting the captive ball. One of those captive ball awards is… Instant Multiball! If you are at the Super Jackpot stage, hitting the captive ball will not only give you the Super, but you will also advance up the boat awards.

The third award is “Rock the Boat” which is convenient since you are shooting for the boat anyway. The fourth one lights the Extra Ball target next to the Casters Club lock. That’s also convenient because you have to put the ball in that general area when you are trying to relight the Jackpot.

If you can get to the top of the boat awards, you will start Multiball AGAIN with three balls and a ball saver if it’s set to award that at the start of Multiball. Plus, the Super Jackpot will remain lit! If the ball saver is on, that means you will have some free time to plug away at that dangerous captive ball and get even more supers!


Here’s another video of a player doing what I wish I could do. I’m done here. Thanks for making it to the end of this. After all of that, I still like Fish Tales. I will continue to play it, hoping for that game when the stars align and the billions start flowing.  May the Target of Death and the captive ball have mercy on you.


SSB is the editor of the website Fun With Bonus, home of the semi-coherent, misguided ramblings of a journeyman professional/amateur pinball player.

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