Pinball Expo is the world’s longest running annual pinball event, and also one of the biggest is size and number of visitors. The 2023 edition has a record number of vendors on the show floor where amongst everything else several new pinball machines will be revealed to the public. See Pinball Magazine’s Pre-Pinball Expo article on that.

As Martin Ayub of Pinball News is already an incredible job reporting on all the seminars taking place at the show, this report will be more of a diary of what Pinball Magazine editor Jonathan Joosten encounters before and during the event. Jonathan and Martin are collaborating on the recording of the seminars, but also write separate reports on the event.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Martin and I both flew in to Chicago on separate flights, but arrived about the sme time. After picking up our rental car, we headed straight to Great American Pinball, a pinball store in West Chicago, run by Mike Nogle. Mike has initiated the built of a black and white Twilight Zone and Addams Family pinball machine, and has been suggesting for years we should come down to write an article about the making of these games. At previous editions of Pinball Expo, that never worked out, but this time it fit our schedule perfectly.

Mike Nogle in front of Great American Pinball shop

Martin and I arrived late afternoon, where we found Mike in the middle of preparations for Pinball Expo. Great American Pinball is one of the vendors on the show floor, with an even bigger booth this year than previous years.

Mike next to his black and white Twilight Zone and Addams Family games.

Aside from taking photos of both black and white games, it turned out that Mike is quite a collector of pinball rarities, which decorate his shop.

In the back this rare Spanish Nautilus game is set up. Even in Europe it’s very uncommon to find this game.

This re-themed Roller Coaster Tycoon may not be everybody’s cup of tea

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Martin had arranged for us to visit American Pinball in Palatine, Illinois. We had visited this factory last year as well, and it’s funny to see how new staff was trying to get us to wait for David Fix, VP of American Pinball, to arrive, and we walk straight into pinball designer Dennis Nordman’s office for a chat. Pinball Magazine No. 2 covers the career of Dennis in pinball (and beyond) in-depth, so it’s always nice to see him and hear what he’s working on. That’s all off the record info that I can’t share yet, of course.

Once David arrived, he gave us a tour of the studio and factory. As can be expected, preparations for Pinball Expo were going on, where American Pinball is helping out other manufacturers by operating as a transport hub for third-party games heading for the event.

Ryan McQuaid is experimenting with a display for the American Pinball stand

At the time of our vist, American Pinball was building their latest game, Galactic Tank Force, on one production line, and Houdini on their second production line.

Following our visit to American Pinball, Martin and I headed of to Skokie, Illinois, for an impromptu lunch with Eugene Jarvis. Eugene recently reached out to me about the upcoming Python Anghelo issue of Pinball Magazine, and this seemed like a good time to discuss that. Eugene also gave us a tour of the Raw Thrills HQ where we got to play several recent and upcoming virtual reality arcade games. Very cool games!

In the meantime, Martin and I both received under embargo the press package for Jersey Jack Pinball’s upcoming game, which will be revealed Thursday, October 19th. With the busy Expo ahead we have to write our articles about the game upfront and appreciate Jersey Jack Pinball understands and trusts us to handle this information with care. Martin and I started writing after dinner and continued the next morning.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

This morning, Martin and I checked out of our hotel, to move into the Renaissance hotel in Schaumburg. Before driving up there, we did some shopping in Streamwood. While shopping, I received an email from pinball designer Steve Ritchie, saying he would be available for lunch today. As I saw this email rather late, 15 minutes after Steve wanted us to be with him, we got back in the car and rushed to the Jersey Jack Pinball factory in Elk Grove Village. Luckily, Steve was still there and he was happy to see we made it. He took us to a Thai restaurant where he talked about the development of his newest game, for which we had just written aricles that will be published simultaniously with the reveal of his game. Funny detail: Steve didn’t know we already had seen photos of his game, while he was trying to describe it without giving away the theme. Once we told him it made the conversation easier for him.

I didn’t take any photos during lunch, but did take one in the car when Steve drove us back to the JJP factory.

Jonathan Joosten, Martin Ayub and Steve Ritchie in Steve’s car

Once Steve dropped us off, we headed to the Renaissance Hotel in Schaumburg, checked in, and took a first look at the show floor during buildup. Around 5:00 PM we had another impromptu meeting, this time with a representitive from Stern Pinball. That’s all I can say about that meeting, but hopefully the results will be noticed throughout 2024.

Bumper Blast @ Enterrium

Following this meeting Martin and I headed to Enterrium, a huge arcade in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois. For the second year in succesion Pinball Expo’s opening event, the Bumper Blast Party, was held here. Busses drove all night between the Renaissance convention center and Enterrium, so attendees could come and go as they saw fit.

At the entrance of Enterrium groups were instructed where they could find the dining room with free food and how to use the Enterrium playing card each received when picking up their Pinball Expo badge.

The Bumper Blast Party serves free food and drinks to Pinball Expo attendees. In one of the dining rooms in the back of Enterrium two buffets were set up, with a variety of fast food and soft drinks.

Earlier that day, the finals of Stern Pinball’s Pro Championship had started at Enterrium, which was still going on during the BBP. While the dining room is a good place to catch up with fellow pinball enthusiasts, this year that was less easy as the speakers in the room were connected to the tournament microphone, which was used quite a lot.

Outside the dining room, American Pinball had set up several rows of their games for visitors to enjoy.

During BBP, I ran into the team from Pinball Universe. Always nice to see them and I was surprised to see Kirsten Adam came along as well as I was under the impression he moved to Berlin and was no longer working for them. As it turns out, Kirsten moved to Berlin, but is still working for Pinball Universe in some capacity. Kirsten and I sat down in a quiet area of the bar where he talked about his life in Berlin, and fixing pinball machines. Kirsten is probably the most knowledgable technician I know of. His restaurations go way beyond what most people consider good enough and he can talk for hours about the importance of replacing connectors on PCBs to make sure the game plays as it should.

Jonathan Joosten and Kirtsen Adam from Pinball Universe. Now who is who?

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Stern Pinball Factory Tour

To keep this article easy to load, the photo collage of the Stern Pinball factory tour is published as a separate article.

At 11:00 AM local time, Jersey Jack Pinball revealed Elton John as their newest pinball title. Check out Pinball Magazine’s updated article on the announcement of the game. While the Elton John game was announced online at 11:00 AM, its first ‘public’ presentation was later in the afternoon at an invite-only event for JJP distributors and VIPs. For the general public, the game was revealed in JJP’s 8:00 PM seminar, hosted by Jack Guarnieri and Steve Ritchie.

At the end of that seminar, the audience got their first chance to play the game. The available three games, two Platinum Editions and one Collector’s Edition, where then moved to the Jersey Jack Pinball booth where each game had a long line for the rest of the event.

Following the Stern Pinball factory tour, visitors were taken back to the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center where the show floor opened for the public at noon.

The line of people waiting for the show floor to open at noon.
At noon the doors opened and a stream of visitors rushed inside.

The first Pinball Expo seminars started at 1:00 PM and were all recorded by Pinball News, with assistance from Pinball Magazine.

The seminar room upstairs

With the seminars started, and Pinball Magazine helping out where possible, there isn’t a lot to report on. With Martin Ayub of Pinball News covering the seminars I was able to head to the show floor and take photos of most vendor booths.

Following the earlier mentioned Jersey Jack Pinball seminar was a short seminar with Roger Sharpe and Michael Gottlieb, followed by the showing of the movie Pinball, The Man Who Saved The Game.

Roger Sharpe and Michael Gottlieb

This was my first time watching this movie, and I found it very entertaining. While I was watching the movie, Martin Ayub and I were supposed to interview Steve Ritchie about his new Elton John game. We figured we would find another opportunity for that. So when I walked past the firepit in the Renaissance Hotel at 2:00 AM in the morning, Steve turned out to be hanging out there. He had been looking for us at 11:00 PM. I suggested we could do the interview now and took Steve up to our room where Martin just finished uploading the seminars of day 1. We recorded the interview, which lasted for over an hour. The final edit will be a lot shorter as not everything discussed is allowed to be published. This interview will be part of the upcoming Pinball Magazine & Pinball News PINcast that will be published early November, looking back at the pinball industry news of October 2023.

Friday, October 20th, 2023

Friday morning I got the chance to play Jersey Jack Pinball’s newest game Elton John before the show floor opened to the public. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect this game to be such a great feelgood game. It shoots great and the integration of the music is done very well. Congrats to JJP for another winner!

The rest of the day I helped Martin as much as possible with the recording of the various seminars, so that he could play some games and take photos on the show floor.

Barrels of Fun hosted a Pizza Party on the first floor at 9:30 PM to celebrate the launch of Labyrinth. I attended the party, which was nice, but the lines to play a game were still too long for me. Instead, I headed to the show floor, where I found JJP’s Jack Guarnieri dressed up as Elton John.

Jack Guarnieri and his daughter Jen

Saturday, October 21st, 2023

Saturday was more of the same: help out with the seminars. I did manage to head downstairs to the show floor to attend the autograph session of the Galactic Tank Force cast in the American Pinball booth. Then there was the regular autograph session, with many pinball industry veterans showing up to sign flyers and such. Good friend Kevin O’Connor was selling two 7″ promotional singles by Dolly Parton, with a cardboard Bally cover. As a collector of 7″ singles I had to buy one of these, and had Kevin sign it as well. Later I realized that made no sense, as Kevin didn’t do the artwork on that game. Oh well.

The final ‘seminar’ was a TV-show inspired quiz Let’s Make A Deal, hosted by Dwight Sullivan and a team of Stern Pinball employees. While the stage was changed for the quiz, Dwight handed out fake quiz money to people in the audience if they could present an item he was looking for. That fake money could be spent in a Stern Shop set up in the left corner next to the stage, filled with Stern Pinball merchandise and goodies. Dwight also was looking for contestants who had to guess from blurred images which game was being shown. Contestants then had the option to choose from several mystry prizes, which could leave them emptyhanded with a Zoink, or with prizes, or a ticket to the final round. In the final round the main prize was a topper for The Mandolorian. I wasn’t a contestant but I did get $60 in fake money, which I spent on Venom figurines that go into the Stern Pinball game. Actually, I bought three sets of two, which will come in handy as prizes in a few weeks when Martin and I will be hosting our So You Think You Know Pinball quiz at the Dutch Pinball Open.

Once the seminars were done, Martin and I packed up all equipment and headed to the JJP stand and waited in line to play another game of Elton John. When the show floor closed at 2:00 AM, we walked out with Steve Ritchie and headed with Steve to the tournament area were the women’s tournament was still going on. We hang around for another hour, before calling it a night.

This was another great Pinball Expo. Many thanks to Rob Berk and the entire Berk family for making the show happen. Next year will probably be even bigger as it will be the 40th edition. See you there!