The early days of dot matrix displays (DMDs) are certainly interesting, as they often used their displays as much as possible to display silly fonts and animation, even if the rules didn’t really necessitate them. Black Rose is one of the earliest Bally DMD games, and it decided to capitalize on its DMD by using three video modes, which is hilariously the most widely-promoted aspect of the game, despite the game’s most interesting feature being the cannon that’s buried underneath the playfield. I love this game, although I’m probably in the minority there (especially since even Mr. Kineticist only gave it second class status in the ranking the best 1990s pinball machines rundown earlier this year). It’s a great theme, has great music and callouts, and has a bunch of great rules and shots which lead to big payoffs should you manage to overcome this game’s tricky design.
Black Rose suffers from one fatal flaw: many gameplay strategies encourage just repeatedly shooting the same ramp without deviating very much. As a result, it’s often considered to be a pretty poor competition game, as repeatable strategies of this nature beget long, uninteresting matches. However, operators can compensate for this by setting the game up to be as unforgiving as possible, which isn’t that difficult to do as the game already has a pretty punishing layout. So, if you’re playing this in competition, expect it to be relentlessly difficult, especially if you’re in a higher level tournament.
The layout is a little funky, but doesn’t feature many unusual features other than being an early game with a center button. There are three flippers, two in the normal spots and one in the upper right. From the left flipper, the most important shot is the Whirlpool ramp in the top right corner, situated just above the bumpers. If you can loop this shot repeatedly, you’re gonna be in great shape. From the right flipper, there’s a ramp you can shoot which feeds the upper flipper, and a lane on the far left side (known as “Pirate’s Cove”) which is the lock shot.
The upper right flipper accesses two shots: a side ramp and a little mini-loop that comes out of the Pirate’s Cove. The side ramp is much more important here; it feeds the upper flipper, meaning you can loop it repeatedly for good points, but it also pops open to reveal “Davy Jones’ Locker,” which feeds the Cannon that’s crucial to high scores. Other notable features include the loop on the far right (with the 2K-4K-8K inserts leading into it) which is a wonderful bailout shot, but otherwise not super important. The last shot is the Broadside, which is right up the middle, and is basically a mode start hole. It has some good value, but there are many good strategies that don’t require you to hit it.
Note that both ramps - the side ramp and the left ramp - feed the upper right flipper very quickly. Be on your toes for that - don’t flail away with the flipper if you can’t time it well - but it can pay off big time if you can get into a rhythm of looping that side ramp several times. Finally, as mentioned above, there’s a Cannon under the playfield. Be warned, the plastics for the cannon, if not smooth, can catch the ball and alter its trajectory, a la Drac’s track on Monster Bash.
If the game is set hard - as it should be - you might struggle to get 10,000,000 points. But if you can get a groove going, getting over 75,000,000 is very possible.
- The easiest strategy is to just loop the Whirlpool Ramp all day for 1,000,000 points a shot. There’s better value elsewhere, but don’t give up a rhythm here if you’re comfortable just looping the ramp.
- The best way to demolish this game is to do the following:
- Loop the Whirlpool ramp repeatedly, changing your inlanes to collect letters in L-O-C-K
- When lock is lit, shoot the Pirate’s Cove to start multiball
- During multiball, trap up one ball and loop the whirlpool ramp or the side ramp with the other ball (whichever is easiest) for 1,000,000 per ramp plus a letter in SINK SHIP
- When multiball is over, if the Cannon is open to sink a ship (lit by spelling SINK SHIP), shoot under the side ramp and make a Cannon shot up to the Broadside for 20,000,000 plus 10,000,000 per ship already sunk
- Go back to the Whirlpool Ramp/lighting locks when you have no ships left to sink
- The Cannon can be opened for regular shots which award SINK SHIP letters (among other awards) by clearing all the target banks, looping the side ramp repeatedly, getting a skill shot to the yellow targets, or by hitting all three banks in one shot. While the cannon can be valuable, SINK SHIP letters are easiest to get during multiball.
- The best Cannon award is the first one (“Double Broadside”) which has you shoot the Broadside repeatedly for an absurd number of points. Make this mode count if you get it going
- The Broadside awards, up the middle, are all worth mediocre value, but collecting all of them lights a 15,000,000 point jackpot at the left ramp.
First things first, off the plunge, get control of the ball as quickly as you can. The skill shot is to the yellow bank of targets, which you should absolutely shoot for since it’s worth solid value, but you need to get control quickly since there’s very little ball saver, if any. Trap up, and get the ball over to the left flipper.
Now let’s get into those repeatable strategies! The whirlpool ramp on the right side of the table can be looped endlessly off of repeated shots from the left flipper. This is worth a hilarious amount of points - as long as you’re shooting the ramps repeatedly, the value will increase from 100,000 to 400,000 for the first four shots, then the fifth (and every shot after that) is worth 1,000,000 points, plus an extra ball if those are relevant. Note that this is kind of on a combo timer - if you don’t make a shot to the ramp for a few seconds, the value will reset, but five more shots and you’re back up to 1,000,000 a ramp.
You can actually put up a pretty spectacular score if you’re just looping this ramp all day. You don’t have to do anything else, but be warned: a failed Whirlpool shot is a drain hazard. If you can get into a rhythm, then I’d say you don’t really need to break that streak. But, there is a way that we can make that ramp even more valuable.
The inlanes and outlanes spell out L-O-C-K. Rolling over an unlit lane will light that letter, and you can move these around with the flippers. Completing L-O-C-K will light lock at the Pirate’s Cove - and while we’re at it, shooting Pirate’s Cove when lock isn’t lit will spot a LOCK letter. But, if you’re good at looping the whirlpool, each shot to the whirlpool also feeds the left inlane! So, you can spell LOCK pretty quickly just by looping the whirlpool ramp and changing your lanes accordingly! If lock is already lit, then completing LOCK again will add a bonus multiplier, which can be worth decent value - so don’t give up on your LOCK lanes even if you’re not going after multiball.
When lock is lit, put the ball into Pirate’s Cove and multiball will begin. You only need one lock, as multiball is a two-ball affair. Be warned that Black Rose has no ball save or restart for the multiball - once the second ball kicks out, draining a ball ends multiball. The upside is that multiball never gets harder to reach, just one LOCK completion and you’re all set.
During multiball, there are three things that you can do. The best thing to do is to get back into shooting ramps. Each ramp during multiball is worth 1,000,000 points plus a letter in S-I-N-K-S-H-I-P, which we’ll talk about later.
Pop quiz: what’s the best way to capitalize on this? If you said “shoot the Whirlpool ramp repeatedly,” you’re correct.
Ideally, you trap one ball on the right flipper and just loop the ramp with the left. I’ve also found that if you full plunge with the new ball, you can immediately get into a loop on the side ramp with the upper flipper. Whatever you’re most comfortable with is fine - just get to looping ramps.
In case you’re wondering why you’d go for a multiball when looping the ramp in single-ball play is also worth 1,000,000 points, it’s because of those letters. Provided you can get at least four of them, they light an incredibly lucrative jackpot which you really shouldn’t be passing up. That said, if you’re in a groove of just looping that ramp in single-ball play, don’t disrupt that rhythm just to get a multiball going, since you’re still getting a ton of points anyway.
Other Multiball Goals
There are two other things you can do during multiball, but I don’t think either of them are worth doing - I’m mostly covering them here so you understand them, as you’re gonna see them occur during any multiball you play.
First, you can spell LOCK again to light two locks at the Pirate’s Cove. Locking one ball will start a timer to lock the second, locking both balls kicks a third ball into play for a three-ball multiball. The only real upside to the three-ball multiball is that the ramps are worth 2,000,000 points and two SINK SHIP letters, but honestly, I think it’s far more trouble than it’s worth.
The other thing you can do is shoot for the flashing “treasure” shots on the standups, ramps, Pirate’s Cove, and right orbit. Collecting six of these starts “Hidden Treasure,” a mode where every ramp and broadside shot (remember - that’s the hole right up the middle) are worth 500,000 a piece, and everything else is worth 250,000. My thinking is that it’s a lot of work to get going since it requires six shots that require you to get out of your whirlpool groove and throw the ball out of control, so I don’t really try for it. However, these points are awarded in bonus pre-multiplier. So, if you have some multipliers, they can be worth a lot. (Which reminds me - LOCK still advances bonus X during multiball, provided you already have locks lit or can’t light them anymore.)
In any case, I advise against going after three-ball multiball or hidden treasure. Looping the whirlpool ramp with two balls in play is worth so many points anyway that there’s no reason to mess with that if you’re in a groove. The added value is nice, but the reward isn’t worth the risk.
Davy Jones' Locker
The game’s signature feature is the cannon, located under the playfield. It’s just like the cannon in AC/DC, Terminator 2, or half of Star Trek: TNG, but it’s buried in the middle of the table and only pops up the instant that it fires the ball. It’s really, really cool, so hopefully you get to see it in action once or twice. You light a cannon shot by doing one of the following:
- Making a successful skill shot to the yellow bank of targets
- Clearing all three banks of targets (note the target on the far right side which spots targets for you)
- Looping the side ramp three times in a row (an extra shot is required for each time you open the cannon this way)
- Hitting all three target banks in one shot (a “ricochet,” as the game calls it)
When the cannon lights, “Davy Jones’ Locker” opens up. The side ramp will pop up, revealing a hole underneath it. Putting the ball into that hole will load the cannon. Note that you can stack multiple cannon shots, though you only take one shot at a time with each cannon trip. You also don’t lose cannon shots if your ball ends, so if your ball starts with a cannon ready to fire, you can - and should - plunge the Davy Jones’ Locker.
When firing the cannon, all the lights will dim, and the cannon will rotate back and forth. The game will use flashing lights to indicate what you’re supposed to be shooting at, and give you a reward for hitting that shot. Pressing the fire button on the lockbar will shoot the ball out of the cannon. Hitting any major shot will always award a SINK SHIP letter. Hitting a flashing shot will award a letter plus whatever award the game is promising you on the display, the value of which ranges from “completely insane” to “meh.” The target banks are often lit for the cannon shot, and banking the shot off of multiple targets will award you SINK SHIP letters for each target bank you hit. If you miss your shot, you’ll have a few seconds to reload the cannon and try again, which doesn’t expend a lit cannon shot, though if you don’t reload, you just lose out on that shot.
The awards for successful cannon shots vary. The most significant award is Double Broadside, which is a timed mode that lights the broadside for 1,000,000 points, then 2,000,000, then 4,000,000, doubling each time up to 32,000,000 points. It’s worth pretty insane value, especially if you can plug the broadside, regain control on the return, and repeat. Other notable awards include Instant Multiball, which just starts a regular multiball, and 2X SINK SHIP Letter, which doubles the number of letters you’d normally collect on that shot, so banking off of all three banks of targets will award six letters.
The cannon is very valuable, but beware that it can put the ball out of control. If you don’t really care about the award, you can always just wait for the cannon to be as far to the left as possible and fire, it’ll almost always go right into the Pirate’s Cove for a free SINK SHIP letter, a free LOCK letter, or just a multiball if one is ready. And speaking of multiballs, the cannon will be inaccessible during multiball.
Okay, we’ve been talking a whole lot about SINK SHIP letters, so let’s go over why they’re valuable. Spelling SINK SHIP will open the Locker to sink a ship. You’ll know you’re shooting to sink a ship when you hear Black Rose herself tell you to “send ‘em to Davy Jones!” This is a special cannon shot which doesn’t require you to open the locker the normal way or expend a cannon shot you already had lit.
The cannon shot to sink a ship is special in a few ways. It doesn’t award any letters, it has no other bonuses, and it must be to the Broadside, which is the most difficult cannon shot by a pretty considerable margin. Most Black Roses require the shot to be pretty much perfect - you can use the habitrail that runs down the center of the table to help you line up your shot, but if you’re off by a hair, you’re likely to miss. Note the cannon might not seem powerful enough to make the full shot, but it’s possible your shot is just below perfect. The good news is that you get unlimited retries - the locker will stay open to sink a ship until that ship is sunk.
If you successfully sink a ship, you’ll get a spectacular light show, the music will switch to a fantastic remix of “Drunken Sailor,” and you’ll be awarded with 20,000,000 points. Each ship you sink after the first is worth 10,000,000 more than the last, and best of all, extraneous SINK SHIP letters are just added to the next spelling. So, if you get into a multiball and collect an absolute crapload of letters, you might have two or three ships ready for sinking once you leave it.
Again, the best source of letters is multiball. Cannon shots are fine, but lighting a multiball is significantly easier than lighting the cannon. Ships are why multiball is valuable. Even though you can put up 1,000,000 point ramps in single-ball play, looping the whirlpool makes it really easy to light a multiball, and looping million point ramps during multiball also lights the absurdly lucrative ship jackpots. Plus, there’s also a “ships sunk” champion, so why not put your initials up there?
The last element of scoring, Broadsides are basically Black Rose’s version of modes. The Broadside saucer awards one semi-random award during single ball play. These awards are listed on the lightning bolt inserts leading up to the saucer, they’re constantly strobing and you just get whatever one is currently lit. Good luck controlling which one you want, though honestly they’re all pretty comparable in value so just take what you can get. The awards are as follows:
- Millions lights all ramp shots for millions of points. It’s a timed mode, and is worth solid value if you start it.
- Rigging Swing (or “Swing from the Riggings,” as the display calls it) is a video mode. You’re swinging from one boat to another, and you have to press the Fire button to make the jump for some minor award. The trick is to press the button at the apex of the swing, just before you start to swing backwards.
- Treasure Chest is a handful of points, nothing too major.
- Walk the Plank is another video mode where you have to outrun a shark. The game tells you to mash the Fire button rapidly to swim away from the shark, but you can (and should) mash the flipper buttons instead since it’s easier to press the buttons faster that way. Again, beating this is worth a random minor award.
- Instant Multiball does exactly what it says. Note that this isn’t a quick multiball, it’s a regular full-fledged multiball, with all the bells and whistles that normally come with it.
- Knife (throw) is another video mode. Like Swing from the Riggings, you just press the button to time a knife throw for a minor award. Personally I find this to be the most difficult one of the three, but there’s no real penalty for losing it anyway so it doesn’t really matter. (The same applies to the other two video modes.)
- Polly is a mystery award, usually something like “Spot Letter” or 500,000 points. There’s an easter egg, though, where if you flip the flippers rapidly as Polly is awarding you something, you kill the parrot for 2,000,000 points. You still get the mystery award, but hilariously 2,000,000 points is much more valuable than anything else you can get from Polly
After collecting the broadside award, you’ll light a 2,000,000 point hurry-up which can be collected at the broadside or the target on the right side that spots targets from the banks. Collecting this hurry-up will relight the broadside for another award. If it times out, you can start the hurry-up again by either hitting the target or by hitting the broadside, so it’s no big deal if you lose out on it. If you collect all seven broadside awards, you’ll light a 15,000,000 point jackpot at the broadside which will go away should you drain.
Honestly, the actual broadside awards aren’t super valuable. The best value comes out of those 2,000,000 point hurry-ups, or the 15,000,000 point jackpot at the end of all of it. Even though one award is an instant multiball, I feel it’s pennies compared to that whirlpool ramp. Besides, it’s easier to start multiball the conventional way.
And that’s how you can rule the seas! Smooth sailing!