FooBrain: Mastering Stern’s Foo Fighters Pinball Machine

FooBrain: Mastering Stern’s Foo Fighters Pinball Machine
Words by
Graphics by
FooBrain: Mastering Stern’s Foo Fighters Pinball Machine
Published on
May 5, 2023
Updated on
November 9, 2023
Read time:
No items found.

Image Gallery

Guide updated for code 0.98.0

FooBrain: When playing Foo Fighters pinball dominates your brain. (Pinball Dictionary)

The story behind the creation of the Foo Fighters pinball machine is truly the story of pinball influencer Jack Danger. Once a casual Twitch streamer, his stream of a Walking Dead pinball launch party in the Chicago area introduced him to employees at Stern Pinball. He would go on to produce a home model of Stern’s Jurassic Park pinball machine before graduating to his first true cornerstone pin in 2023 with Foo Fighters, a game unlike any other.

Based on iconography from the band’s concerts, Foo Fighters is also a game inspired by 80s cartoons, albeit served with a good helping of satire and good-natured ribbing at their quality (or lack thereof). The Fighters are menaced by an alien known only as “The Overlord,” who learned what he views to be human behavior from TV and vows to remove all forms of musical entertainment to “reformat” the world. To defend against the alien invasion, the Fighters go on an epic pinball adventure and travel across the US, all while modding out their van and defeating the Overlord’s army of spider-bots.

foo fighters pinball the evil overlord

The absurd story is benefited by the creative layout, featuring many creative shots like the left crossover and right orbit that send the ball across the middle of the table, and clever design that mixes aspects of a “flow” combo-shooting game with the slow-paced nature of “stop and go” games.

While I had only vaguely heard of the band prior to the game’s release, the aesthetic and layout of the game quickly won me over. Foo Fighters pinball isn’t for everyone; it requires precise shots to truly succeed, and knowledge of where these shots will lead, and the silly theme might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but personally, it’s my favorite pinball machine since Godzilla, and it might even be better.

noah says foo fighters pinball

As the code updates, the game will change! The Tilt Forums rulesheet is always a good place to go for the latest detailed Foo Fighters pinball rules updates.

Foo Fighters Pinball Production Details

Foo Fighters pinball was released by Stern Pinball in 2023.

Foo Fighters Pinball Playfield Overview

foo fighters pinball machines playfield overview

Even the normally standard bottom of the machine is a bit different than usual. Equipped without outlane posts by default, the game features trapezoidal slingshots akin to the ones from early 90s street-level Gottlieb releases and standup targets at the apex of both return lanes. These targets are the “ray gun” targets and are used to multiply the value of the next shot by 2x if made via an alley pass. Listed above the flippers are the six cities that the player and Fighters must save to prevent the Overlord’s conquest, with the two cities in white (Austin & D.C.) reserved for wizard modes.

foo fighters pinball tutorial & rules lower playfield closeup

The middle of the table includes many shots that require unique angles. The left crossover shot feeds the upper flipper and is ideally shot from a held ball on the right flipper; below this shot are the sonic radio targets that qualify ball save at the left outlane. The left ramp is a short ramp, ideally made as a backhand, contrasting with the steep and long right ramp on the opposite side. Right of the left ramp are three drop targets blocking a large paddle target. Completing the drops allows repeatable shots to the paddle target to upgrade the van. Shots to the paddle target often rebound into either the Overlord lock or the lane feeding the upper flipper.

foo fighters pinball machines middle playfield closeup

The upper half of the playfield comparatively has a mix of easy and difficult shots. The center spinner and side ramp are relatively easy “bail out” shots that can also be used to massively buff Combotron scores (to be described later), while the upper loop and right orbit are more challenging but lead to even higher scoring possibilities – particularly the right orbit, which feeds the Rock-O-Meter lane near the right flipper to advance towards playfield multipliers. Look out for the bot targets near the right ramp and side ramp that can disrupt shots to them, but make sure to keep track of the “bot award” target on the lower right that lights after completing them.

foo fighters pinball rules & strategy upper playfield

Ball save can be awarded at both outlanes, on the left side via “Overdrive” at the start of the game, by completing the radio targets enough times, and on the right side by collecting the 1st, 5th, 9th, etc. bot award. These are important to keep active as the outlanes are quite vicious on this game.

Scoring on the game is standard for newer Sterns though a bit lower than its contemporaries. 100M+ would be considered a good score in tournament play, but players who reach and succeed at either Austin or D.C. and complete the FooBot can expect scores of over a billion.

Quick Foo Fighters Pinball Tutorial

foo fighters pinball rules and strategy tutorial 1
foo fighters pinball rules and strategy tutorial 2

Text Version

  • Weigh your options accordingly for the skill shot. A very soft plunge into the Rock-O-Meter lane will advance towards playfield multiplier, but plunging for the drop targets will mod out your van instantly and improve the next van mode.
  • Shoot white arrows to light the left ramp to start a city mode. All city modes score well but can score even better if you complete them on your first try and/or mod out your van by shooting the paddle behind the drop targets.
  • Shoot the captive ball to charge up your action button. This allows you to press it to collect lit shots during modes and multiballs. If nothing is lit, the action button will usually prioritize the right ramp for Area 51 progress (but won’t start it).
  • Shoot the Overlord until the insert there turns green and then lock a ball there; shoot it three more times for multiball. The first multiball is generally best played as a utility to help with your first van mode, while the second and third multiballs are far more lucrative (though they require way more shots).
  • 5 right ramp shots will start Area 51 multiball, another good utility multiball. All shots score jackpots and are lit red. Once they turn blue, super jackpot can be accessed by shooting the right ramp followed by the captive ball as a combo.
  • Mystery award – shoot the radio targets, then quickly shoot either of them again when the white insert is flashing. 
  • Right orbit shot lights Rock-O-Meter to advance towards 2x playfield, then 3x playfield if already running. The paddle target must be hit to light right orbit subsequently. Ray gun targets at return lanes multiply the next shot by 2x or 4x if both were hit.
  • Bot target hits light the “bot award” target. 1st award lights ball save at right outlane, 2nd lights extra ball, 4th lights left ramp for bot frenzy (shoot the spinner for big points and targets to multiply them).
  • Shoot the side ramp to light the Combotron inserts. Make 3 combos of at least 4 shots in a row to light the side ramp for their combined value.
  • Players that succeed at completing all of the above tasks will be able to activate the FooBot and take down the Overlord with the Fighters’ giant mech.

Skill Shot & Van Mods

skill shot and van mods explained in foo fighters pinball by stern

The main skill shots you want to prioritize are the drop targets (to collect van mods) and the Rock-O-Meter lane (for playfield multiplier). The lane skill shot is timed; try to plunge the ball when the third insert is lit. The drop targets can also be made as a direct flipper shot if no switches have been registered.

Van mods are important because of the boosts they provide towards each van mode – they can make them easier or more lucrative and can only be accessed if you consistently aim for the paddle target. The first few modes are relatively easy to complete, but later ones practically require mods to complete.

The three mods are:

  • Engine (bottom) – adds 20 seconds to the next mode.
  • Speakers (middle) – adds more points to shots in the next mode.
  • Bomb (top) – makes the next mode easier to complete by spotting shots.

You can also upgrade the mods further by repeatedly shooting the paddle target after one has been awarded. They can even be awarded during modes if you focus on shooting the paddle target.

The Overlord & Area 51

the overlord and area 51 foo fighters pinball

At the start of the ball, your priority should be shooting the Overlord lock or targets, then shooting the lit lock – these targets are surprisingly dangerous and can lead to very fast drains otherwise. Once you’re one shot away from multiball, start a city mode (as described below), shoot the Overlord, and take care of the mode as you play it.

The rules for the three Overlord multiballs are different, but All My Life is the first, and the one most players are guaranteed to see. It is worth noting that the jackpots are lit in a sequence for this multiball: both ramps and spinner, then both orbits, then both upper flipper shots, then the Overlord for super jackpot. The lit action button can spot jackpots, or you can re-lock a ball in the Overlord lock (when lit blue) to spot a jackpot and double all jackpots for a short time. Don’t be surprised when this ball releases after multiball ends.

Area 51 can be started during Overlord but is best played separately. Red shots score jackpots; when all turn blue, shoot the right ramp, followed by the captive ball for super jackpot. This multiball can be worth quite a bit but should be played to benefit van modes primarily.

Van Modes

foo fighters pinball van modes rules & tutorial

Three white arrow shots will light the left ramp to select the next mode. Shoot the flashing shots, and the final shot will always be at the Overlord. All six modes are quite lucrative, and there’s no truly “bad” option, but I prefer playing certain modes first, which will be the order I list them for this guide.

  • New Orleans (Purple) – Everything is lit. Shoot one shot and then make that same shot again. This is a great mode to bring into a multiball, especially Area 51.
  • Seattle (Blue) – Shoot shots from the right to the left side of the playfield. Got one more shot to the right orbit needed for 2x playfield? Start this.
  • Roswell (Orange) – One orange shot and one green shot at a time; shoot whichever orange shot lights ideally. High scoring but difficult.
  • Los Angeles (Green) – Ramp combo mode, shoot them to advance faster. Not very high scoring on average, but this is a quick mode to finish.
  • New York (Yellow) – Spinner builds value collected for 3x at a random shot. I’ve seen people do really well with this mode, but I haven’t figured it out yet.
  • Chicago (Light Blue) – One shot lit at a time for hurry-up. If it times out, then you’ll have to make one more shot. If the first shot is an easy shot I’ll take it; otherwise, skip.

You ideally want to score 50M+ during each van mode for a chance at the upgraded FooBot part and higher jackpots during the Austin wizard mode. The best ways to do this are by combining playfield multipliers, raygun multipliers, and the multipliers from FooBot parts.

The Action Button

foo fighters pinball rules and how to play the action button

Shooting the captive ball progresses towards lighting the action button yellow, then green, then red. This indicates that you can press the action button to collect a shot. Unless a mode is currently running, don’t use this; save it for when you need to make a particularly difficult shot like the right orbit or upper loop.

Radio Targets

foo fighters pinball radio targets

Shoot the two radio targets on the left side to light mystery, then shoot either of them quickly to collect it. Mystery awards are above average on this game (look out for “max tractor beam” that enables 3 action button presses and instant van mods), and the traditional add-a-ball during multiball is also included. This will also lock in the radio dial on the display.

After 5 successful mystery awards (and maxing out the radio dial), supersonic radio mode will start. Gray shots will turn pink, all scoring points and increasing the radio frequency. Make a shot to every area of the playfield when lit pink to qualify the radio targets for the radio jackpot worth the total points collected from this mode. Good to bring into other modes.

Bot Targets

bot targets in foo fighters pinball rules & how to play the game

Standup target hits light the Bot Award target at the bottom right for something useful. 1st award lights ball save at the right outlane, 2nd award lights extra ball, and the 4th award lights the left ramp for Bot Frenzy (flashing blue).

Bot Frenzy lights the spinner for 40 seconds to score big points multiplied by the number of targets hit prior. While this isn’t necessarily high scoring on its own, it can lead to huge points if stacked with a multiball and can be brought into all other game features.


foo fighters pinball combotron closeup

The side ramp shot lights combos if they aren’t currently lit. Keep making shots that naturally flow into each other to increase the value of the combo and change the color of the combo inserts. While it’s not worth going for combos on their own, they can be collected at any time during gameplay (even during multiball), and the side ramp Combotron jackpot can be worth a decent amount in the late game.

The Rock-O-Meter

how to play foo fighters pinball the rock-o-meter

If the “battery” insert is lit at the right orbit (always lit to start the game), shooting it will light one of the Rock-O-Meter lights near the “bot award” target. Completely fill up the Rock-O-Meter with three shots to that lane to start 2x playfield scoring for 40 seconds, and repeat this process again while the timer is still running for 3x playfield scoring. Later on, you’ll need to shoot the paddle target behind the drops to relight the “battery” insert.

Playfield multipliers on this game can be huge, and I feel many players, including myself, have really ignored them. If you’re one shot away from starting 2x playfield, make sure to start the first Overlord multiball combined with a van mode before making the final right orbit shot. This is a surefire way to get a good tournament score!

FooBot Multiball

foobot parts foo fighters pinball tutorial

To assemble the FooBot, the player must:

  • Complete a city mode in one try
  • Start an Overlord multiball
  • Start Area 51 multiball
  • Start supersonic radio mode
  • Start Bot Frenzy mode
  • Score a Combotron jackpot

Each objective corresponds to a FooBot part that multiplies scoring at a specific shot for the rest of the ball or for the rest of the game if they have been upgraded by achieving a more difficult, related task. Get all six FooBot parts to light the left ramp for FooBot multiball, a 3-ball multiball that uses the player's performance in each part's associated mode to determine jackpot values that can be scored at major shots and the Overlord. Shooting the Overlord enough times will add a ball, with a super jackpot available at the Overlord worth the jackpot total after scoring all six shots.

Noah's Strats

  • On tournament copies, where ball save is often disabled, it might be best to ignore plunging for the rock-o-meter and instead aiming for the drop targets to boost the next mode.
  • I typically play van modes in the following order: New Orleans w/ first multiball, then either Seattle or Los Angeles (the latter if Area 51 is ready). After playing all three of these, I'll play for either Austin if the jackpot is above 2.5M, or DC otherwise.
  • I prefer backhanding the Overlord captive ball over shooting it directly - it's a fairly early shot from the right flipper and is fairly consistent. From the left flipper, the ball will be more likely to hit one of the targets surrounding it instead.
  • Try bringing bot frenzy and / or supersonic radio modes into any multiball for explosive points!