Bally Cirqus Voltaire
'Welcome to the greatest pinball on earth !' That's what the pinball game says when you start a game.. and yes, Cirqus Voltaire is an excellent game. Maybe not the greatest ever made but certainly one of the better ones.
Cirqus Voltaire was designed by John Popaduik and this is obvious when you compare it to other pinball machines he designed: World Cup Soccer, Theatre of Magic and Tales of the Arabian Nights. There's a big toy you have to shoot at (the ringmaster). There are other elements he likes to use: a long loop, a short inner loop, rollovers, magnets, very long ramps, .. It's all very similar. But from this list of games Cirqus Voltaire is his best by a long margin.
Everyone loves a circus, the theme is great. The playfield layout integrated very good into this circus theme.
You have to join the circus and perform all acts. There's a main ring and a sideshow. And the game just looks great,
with all the beautiful colors it will impress everyone.
Gameplay is also great: beginners (even kids) can enjoy this pin and just bash away at the Ringmaster. But that does not score points indefinately and to progress further in the game and make it to the wizard mode you have to make shots all over the playfield. And for the real good players who want to earn a lot of points, strategy becomes important. Then you really have to know the games rules an try to start several multiballs at the same time, and try not to make certain shots before something else is lit. And in contrast to Theatre of Magic, Cirqus Voltaire has an excellent Wizard mode. It's even not one mode but consists of 5 different steps you have to achieve.
So I hope you see this is a pinball game everyone can enjoy, beginners will have a great time but excellent players enjoy it for a long time too.
The game artwork is beautiful with bright colors. Small details are hidden all over the machine. The neon tube is fantastic, it makes playing the game spectacular.
Not everyone liked Cirqus Voltaire when it was new, as gameplay was too much stop-and-go.
The ball was locked somewhere on the playfield and an animation played on the dmd screen
for a few seconds, only then the pinball was released and gameplay continued.
The animations are very nice but take a while to run, and if you've seen them a few
times they become boring.. Players want to continue playing and not wait until a ball is released.
Cirqus Voltaire was even 'closed out': even though the production number is quite low (especially compared to how many games were produced the previous years), Williams had made too much of them and sold the last ones of at very discounted prices just to get rid of them. This also kept prices low the first years, a lot of collectors didn't want to pay more for a used pinball machine than what it sold for when new.
But times change, less people play at location but more and more people are interested in buying pinball machines for their home. And Cirqus Voltaire is a beautiful machine, its artwork alone makes a lot of people interested in it. The final breakthrough of Circus Voltaires popularity came in April 2002. Then the 'home rom' was released. A new eprom with a revised version of the game rules.
A lot of bugs were fixed and some new features were added. The feature which affects gameplay most is that you can abort these animations which normally take a few seconds and hurt the gameplay. So the game isn't very stop-and-go anymore, there's more flow and continuous action. Suddenly opinions about this game changed, before it was an average game, now it became a very good one that almost everyone liked and came on the 'must have' list of a lot of people.
As said above, Cirqus Voltaire is a great game and almost everyone likes it. Read the rulesheet of the pinball machine for a complete overview of what's possible. Cirqus Voltaire is an excellent game. The playfield layout is very well, so are the game rules. It's usually not very difficult to reach wizard mode, you don't have to be an expert player. An average player who plays enough will also enjoy this game a lot and uncover a lot of modes. To finish the wizard mode and score a lot of points you do have to be a good player. And there are some random awards which are very impressive, like neon multiball.
My Cirqus Voltaire pinball machine
I have this pinball machine already a few years, before most of the people got interested in it.
I had never played it but read about it on rec.games.pinball and got interested in it.
This was somewhere in the year 2000 or early 2001 I think.
It was still quite new and not a lot of machines were produced of it. Because of this I had never seen a used one for sale.
I contacted every operator I found to ask if they had one. One of them had and it was in a pub
about 50km from my house. So one evening I drove over there to play the game.
The pub was very dark, the outside windows were almost all covered, inside was little light. Only 2 or 3 people were in the bar. Really not the kind of place I'd walk in. But to play pinball people do a lot :-)
The pinball machine was in excellent condition, it looked brand new. Playing Cirqus Voltaire was great: the nice artwork, the great sounds and lightshow, everything impressed me. On the way home I had decided I was going to own a Cirqus Voltaire, not matter what it took !
I asked the operator if he wanted to sell that specific machine. He didn't want to as it was just cleaned and put out on location, but in a few months when he was going to switch it with another one and let me know. The price we agreed on was also good. So I waited patiently.. Months later he notified me the game was in. We arranged a date and time for me to pick it up. But then, the horror.. A few hours before I was going to buy the game the operator phoned me to say the deal was off ! Explained to me he made a mistake and thought we were talking about another machine. Now his repair guy had cleaned the machine he noticed it looked too good.. it was still too new to sell already. I inquired if he really didn't want to sell now but he said that if he was going to sell it in a few years the price was at least double of what he said first. What a disappointment this was for me !
But I had made up my mind to get a Cirqus Voltaire and I was going to find one ! I contacted other operators I know and found one who had 2. And they wanted to sell me one ! Unnecessary to say I went there asap to buy the machine.
My Cirqus Voltair pinball machine is in very good condition.
It doesn't look 'mint' or brand new, the cabinet is not perfect (the head has a few small nicks at the edges),
but the playfield and plastics are very nice. I've seen much worse Cirqus Voltaires. And even the unopend 'goodie' bag
with decals and a promo plastic was still present in the cabinet. It had a blue neon and a blue menagerie ball.
When I ordered the purple scrolls from For Amusement Only I also ordered menagerie balls in every available color (yellow, green, red and blue). I've installed the yellow one in my game as I find this looks best (very flashy). Later the exit of the right ramp broke off (the horror) but luckily I could buy a used ramp with purple neon so I installed that one in my game.
Things to look for when buying Cirqus Voltaire
Wear spots. Wear around the edge of the ringmaster, around the boom balloon.
Circus Voltaire games with lots of play often have chipped inserts, especially on the lower part of the playfield
between the slingshots, because of pinballs falling down from the metal ramp when multiball starts.
Broken plastics: especially the skill shot plastic, the plastic around the ringmaster and the dmd cover are often broken.
Damaged backglass: the backbox ball makes the plexi backglass dirty and worn.
Ball hang ups. Early production games had ball traps. An upgrade kit consisting of some clear plastics to prevent ball traps is available.
There's a blue rubber pad on the metal ball guide right of the ringmaster, where the ball gets kicked back onto the playfield. This is missing on a lot of games.
A lot of Cirqus Voltaires have problems with the ball lock on the wireramp. There are three microswitches to detect locked balls. Often these are misadjusted, so balls are not registered. If you lock a ball, it will not stay on the ramp but the game releases it back into play. What also often happens is that the balls stick behind the microswitches and don't get released correctly when multiball starts.
There are several ways to solve this problem.
- At least make sure the game is set at an angle which is steep enough.
- Also check the ramp itself is steep enough. There should be a plastic washer in the middle where it's stuck to the playfield. Some games do not have this (it's part of the upgrade kit for this game) or when the game was 'shopped' the ramp was reassembled in an incorrect way.
- Finally the microswitches have to be adjusted very careful.
One solution is to replace the microswitches with another type (Data East/Sega type of microswitch).
These microswitches don't have a long metal blade but a type of rollover (short metal blade with a ball on the end).
I careful adjusted the microswitches on my machine. With the ramp out of the game, I put 3 pinballs on it and started adjusting every switch careful. It has to be bend exactly so you hear it 'click' when the pinball rolls over (so it makes contact), but the blade may not stick high enough so it becomes a ball trap. Because only gravity and the weight of the pinball must be enough to let pinballs roll down when they are released. With the ramp out of the game you can lift each end up or down and let the pinballs roll over the microswitch in every direction (up and down). It took me about 15 minutes to adjust, and since then I've never had any problem again.
On my game the neon ramp broke off at the end ! It seems the design of the ramp is not optimal,
fast balls hitting the metal bracket at the end put too much stress on the plastic part where it's attached to,
and one day the ramp just broke off !
Luckily I was able to find a nice, used ramp. To all Cirqus Voltaire owners I strongly suggest to apply
the same fix as I did: put a thing piece of foam (weatherstripping for doors and windows) inside the metal bracket.
The foam will absorb a lot of the pinballs energy.
The transformer of the neon breaks after a while. If your neon starts to fade (or doesn't come on at all you may have to replace it). You can order it from this company: see here for instructions how it's done.
There's only one promo plastic / keychain for Cirqus Voltaire.
The goodie bag also contains a clear slingshot plastic, an oval purple decal, a spare ringmaster decal.
There's one heaxgon-shaped decal with purple and yellow stripes on it. That was designed to go on the metal box underneath the ringmaster in which the pinballs fall. But because this sometimes caused ball hangups it was decided not to install it in the game at the factory.
Also check Martins CV page at Iobium.com. He describes some mods like how to improve the sound. A 4k7 resistor may be too low, people have used 15k to 20k with better results. I installed a pot instead of a fixed value resistor so I can adjust it a bit..