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Skee Ball – it’s one of those classic boardwalk games that almost everyone has played a few times.
As far as arcade games go, Skee Ball looks simple on the surface. After all, you only need to roll the ball so that it hops into the highest point hoop a few times…right? Well, as anyone who has spent a few too many quarters at the arcade can tell you, Skee Ball is not as easy as it looks.
In fact, there’s quite a bit of technique associated with successfully playing the game.
For most folks, it takes at least a few years to fully understand and utilize the basic mechanics of the game. From there, you’d need further practice to really master the methods that separate an amateur from a competitive expert (and yes, there are competitive Skee Ball tournaments).
In this guide, I’ll cover the basics and as well as a few specialized strategies of the game. You’ll also learn about the origins of Skee Ball and a few misconceptions about the game.
What Is Skee Ball?
Before we jump into the rules and techniques used for playing Skee Ball, let’s take a step back in time. There, we can learn all about the game’s invention and rise to popularity.
Skee Ball as we know it today first came onto the scene in 1908 when Joseph Fourestier Simpson patented the game’s basic elements and mechanics. By 1909, Simpson had licensed out the construction and distribution of his 32-foot long games to the Skee-Ball Alley Company. The game itself failed to gain much popularity until it appeared on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1914.
By 1929, the patent for Skee Ball had been passed between several companies before ending up with the National Skee-Ball Company. This company would again give a boost to the game’s popularity, which endured into the late 1940s and early 1950s. From there, the game had become a mainstay in many arcades and on seaside boardwalks.
Throughout that time and into the present, Skee Ball has stayed essentially the same (other than some updates to the construction materials used and the point values assigned).
In essence, each player is given a set of baseball-sized balls which they are supposed to roll underhand up the game’s central alley. At the end, the ball hits a ramp, which launches the thrown ball towards (and perhaps into) one of several holes arranged in concentric circles.
Due to space restrictions, many Skee Ball lanes today are shorter than the original game’s specifications. Almost all modern lanes also include a critical anti-cheating measure as well – a cage.
To be specific, most modern models include a cage that covers most of the opening at the scoring end. This cage is open at the bottom such that only a rolled ball can be thrown towards the scoring holes. This prevents balls from being “lobbed” or pitched toward the holes in an unfair manner.
The Basics of Skee Ball: Rules
If you’re playing Skee Ball by yourself (at an arcade or at home, for example), you probably haven’t thought too much about the specific rules of the game. After all, automated arcade units tend to handle the distribution of balls and point tabulation on their own.
But if you’re looking to really improve your Skee Ball skills, it is important to have the basic rules down pat.
That being said, most avid Skee Ball players today consider two different rule sets to be “basic,” depending on your situation.
The first of these is the “traditional” or standard ruleset, which calls for 12 rounds of back-and-forth play between two teams of 3-12 players. In this ruleset, each team rolls a frame of nine balls and totals their score accordingly. This continues until the 12 rounds are complete.
At that point, a final “mystery round” is played. These rounds are often based on house rules and may be valued at up to 100 points. Here are just a few “mystery rounds” utilized by the Denver Skeeball League:
- Speed: Each team sends a player to their respective lane. At a host’s command, both players begin to roll their nine balls as quickly as possible. The first to complete this task (as signaled by the lane’s electronics) is declared the winner.
- Relay: Each team member on a team throws one of the allotted nine balls. Each team member must throw at least one ball and the team must continue to throw in the same order. The team with the most points at the end of the round wins the bonus.
- Price is Right: Each team competes to get a precise score without going over in the course of a standard round. If a team goes over, they cannot win the bonus.
There are also several further stipulations in standard Skee Ball play. For example, each team member present must throw at least one full round of nine balls. Also, at least three different throwers must compete in a given match, though a single thrower cannot throw for more than four frames in a full match.
Many Skee Ball leagues also make use of the second rule set, which is designated for “match play.”
These rules require two teams to compete in a best of seven round format, with each round consisting of nine balls. Each team sends up three throwers per round, who each throw three consecutive balls. Points are then totaled, with the winner of the round earning a point toward the overall tally.
In addition to these two situation-specific rule sets, there are also a variety of broadly applicable rules which can be applied to any variation on basic Skee Ball.
For example, it is usually considered illegal to throw without both feet on the ground at the base of the lane. Also, it is considered important to always highlight scoring errors as soon as they happen. This is because many Skee Ball machines are quite old and will occasionally make mistakes that can impact a competitive Skee Ball match.
Playing Skee Ball Like a Pro: Strategy & Technique
Now that you have the basics of Skee Ball under your belt, it’s time to dive deep into the strategies and techniques used by the “professionals.”
As you’d expect, there is not one single method or motion that will always lead to Skee Ball success. However, many of the following methods have been tested in the field by folks who consider themselves proficient at this arcade game.
The first technique that most experienced Skee Ball players recommend is to lower and stabilize your stance. This allows for more consistent throws, even between rounds. To do this, place your shin on your dominant side against the base of the lane. Then, place your left foot back at about a shoulder’s length. From there, keep your knees slightly bent as you follow through your throw.
Next, you’ll want to set your sights on a reliable target. Many first-timers do this naturally but do not aim exclusively for the highest value hole. This method rarely works, so it is best to aim for an accessible hole with a consistent point value. On most lanes, this is the 40 point hole. While practicing, work on consistently hitting this hole before trying to shoot for the big jackpots.
Depending on if you are playing recreationally or competitively, you may also consider trying banking your shots into a desired hole.
This can be done by intentionally throwing toward a lane’s sides with enough force that the ball banks back into a hole. This can take some practice to learn, but also makes it easier to reliably hit high point holes. However, this method is sometimes forbidden (or highly discouraged) in competitive matches.
In its most essential form, Skee Ball is a fun arcade game for all ages. That’s good because for many folks, it takes many years to really master this game’s simple mechanics.
Whether you play recreationally or competitively, there’s a lot to learn about Skee Ball before you can beat your arcade’s high score.
By following the rules and techniques outlined above, you should be able to achieve that performance goal sooner than later.
One last tip before you go – as with all other arcade games, practice makes perfect when it comes to Skee Ball.
So, don’t be afraid to throw a few extra rounds if you want to get better. You might even consider checking out a local competitive league or getting yourself a machine at home. That way, you can build your Skee Ball skills while also making some new friends.