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Cheap, Pretty and Fast: A Look at Classic Stern Pinballs

“Classic Sterns” are pinball machines made by Stern Electronics between 1977 and 1984.

In particular, games released between 1980 and 1982 are classic pinball machines that provide a great bang for the buck for your game room.

What is special about these Stern games you may ask?

There are a few things:

Stern was more flexible in working with game artists than competing manufacturers. Stern would allow more of a free range in both artistic theme and style. Artwork as unusual as that found in Quicksilver or as bold as Viper feels different from most of what you would see from other pinball companies at the time.

Additionally Stern had some really excellent designers working for them. Harry Williams (yes that Harry Williams) and Steve Kirk are especially notable.

Finally, in comparison to games of that time period from Williams and especially Bally — Stern games are faster and smoother playing games.

It is rare for early 1980 games to feature ball speed so great as to result in balls bouncing over flippers or smacking into the playfield glass. But that is what you get with these classic Stern pinball machines.

They play super fast and also have very nice feeling flippers — especially when compared to Bally games of that time.

You would think that these games would typically sell for over $2K each if working and in nice shape — but many of the games in this list can be had for $1000 – $1500.

That is a ridiculously low price for games that are so much fun to play, look so gorgeous, are relatively few in number (outside of Meteor, Galaxy, and Flight 2000) and have classic arcade 80’s sounds.

Classic Sterns may be the best bargain in pinball going today.

So without further adieu — here are our top ten Classic Sterns for your game room:

10. Split Second

Cool upper playfield and interesting layout. I am just a sucker for weird layouts, which is why I enjoy this one so much. Also the backglass and overall art is lovely.

9. Lightning

Very cool upper playfield, hard to achieve multiball, very fast game play, and cool backglass. And ridiculously rare. It took me six years to finally find one.

8. Galaxy

Love the skill shot on this one and the spinner shot is so satisfying. People say it is an easy game, but if you jack the legs up in the back and polish up the playfield it is plenty challenging.

7. Flight 2000

Flight 2000 is a game just has it all (for it’s time). F2K has a widebody design, crazy original ball loading feature that shoots loaded balls over from one area to another. The game has drop targets galore, multiball, and even voices (although many games no longer have this feature working).

6. Quicksilver

The very unique Doug Watson artwork is a highlight for me on this one and game play is nice and fast. Lots of drop targets and there are very few games with so much green in them. Not even Hulk has this much green.

5. Nine Ball

Lots of drop targets and multiball, which a lot of the Sterns do not have. Also has a very cool unique floating spinner shot and good opportunities for bank shots. One of the few games by pinball sage Steve Kirk.

4. Big Game

Awesome backglass by Doug Watson. Heck Big Game could be a snoozer in terms of game play, but with that backglass it would still be desirable. Luckily it also is a cool game. Trying to fill out the “bingo cards” is a challenge. Also it is a widebody, which I like for variety — and yet it still plays nice and fast (unlike most widebodies).

3. Seawitch

Nice swipe-able drop targets and the upper area shots from the upper flipper are fun as well. Great art, especially the backglass. A poor man’s Fathom.

2. Star Gazer

Great backglass. Unique design without any return lanes really keeps you on your toes with this one. This one plays so nice the art is almost not necessary, but damn it is pretty. If you find one, please send it this way.

1. Meteor

And coming in at #1 is Meteor. Not sure what it is about this one. It is just so addictive. Hitting those drop targets up high with the top right flipper is fun and sweeping them from shots down low is awesome. It is a classic “just one more game” pinball machine.

Classic Stern pinball machines are  getting harder and harder to find and going up in value. But for many I think they still are a great pinball bargain.