Retro Coin Op Synopsis
For everybody too young to enjoy the high-stakes pressure of a weekly poker game, Coastal Amusements introduced Pop-A-Ball, an arcade game that traded playing cards for colored balls and chips for redemption tickets. There were choices to be made (hold or re-pop), winnings (novelty prizes inside the arcade’s glass counter) and of course, the element of chance. All that was missing was your sweaty neighbor Ira worrying about what to tell his old lady after losing a day’s pay.
The popping aspect of Pop-A-Ball took place on a glass-encased 5x5 grid. Five bouncy balls were launched from their resting places, flying around the hopper until they settled in one of the twenty-five squares. Each square corresponded to a certain playing card (9 through Ace in each suit, plus a wild Joker), leaving players with a five-card hand after the popping stopped.
After one pop, it was decision time. A video screen displayed your current hand, allowing you to keep any balls you wanted and re-pop the rest. The better your combination (two, three, four or five of a kind, straight, flush, etc.), the greater your bounty in tickets. After deciding how much you wanted to press your luck, the remaining balls were re-popped, and the results were final.
For the higher-stakes young gamblers, there was even the option of putting in double money for a double reward of tickets. The poker-like aspects may have made a few parents and arcade operators nervous, but Coastal Amusements anticipated that. Instead of playing cards, the game could also display other characters or simply a series of numbers, making the game appear no seedier than Skee-Ball or any other redemption game.
For even younger players, the company also introduced Pop-A-Tac-Toe, which applied the ball-popping concept to a classic Tic-Tac-Toe game. The 3x3 grid had four balls hopping around it, and as expected, three in a row in any direction meant a win. With four balls in play, gamers could also score bonus tickets by covering all four corners or by making a diamond shape. A certain “Magic Square” (which changed every game) would also give a bonus.
Both Pop-A-Ball and Pop-A-Tac-Toe were major hits for Coastal Amusement, and they remain so today. Updated versions of both games were released, featuring larger displays, new graphics and sound, along with other improvements. With both games still bringing in players at arcades around the globe, the kid-friendly games of chance will likely continue until the last young gamer folds and calls it a night.