Pinball vs Bagatelle – The 5 Main Differences

Pinball and Bagatelle are similar in many ways. After all, Bagatelle is an earlier version of pinball- but they’re not synonyms as most people believe. There are some key differences between pinball and Bagatelle.

The 5 main differences between pinball and Bagatelle involve:

  1. The type of balls used
  2. The number of balls used
  3. The size of the table
  4. The use of coins
  5. The games’ histories

We will go through each of these differences in more detail below, and we will also discuss the histories of the two games, along with some of the variants that exist as well.

The History Of Bagatelle

Chateau Bagatelle

Bagatelle gets its name from Chateau Bagatelle, which was the home of Count Artois. He was the brother of King Louis XVI of France, and in 1777 he hosted a party at his home where the game was first played. Bagatelle is derived from Italian ‘bagattella’ meaning ‘a decorative object.’ It is a simple game, played on a table that is 7 inches long and 21 inches wide.

The goal was to shoot nine balls into the holes while avoiding the obstacles that came in the form of wooden pegs fixed on the table. Initially, there were eight white balls and one black one. As expected, Bagatelle became an instant hit with the French aristocracy and eventually spread to the military, with it being a popular way to pass the time in the army barracks.

Victorian Bagatelle

The game reached America and England during the Revolutionary War, where an array of varieties popped up. The first of these is Victorian Bagatelle. This version is played with eight red or white balls and a pool cue. The holes in this variant are numbered, with the holes surrounded by the most obstacles getting higher points.

Mississippi, Bell And Northern Variants

Mississippi Bagatelle is a variant that uses small arches instead of holes, while Bell Bagatelle involves a small plastic or wooden game board with nails placed all over it. Northern Bagatelle, though slightly similar to the Victorian version, puts more emphasis on precision rather than luck. It is also more often played by teams not individuals.

Sans Egal

In Sans Egal (‘Without Equal’ in French) a player receives four white balls and four red ones. They shoot for the numbered holes at the opposite end of the table as in the Victorian version, but in this variant the players shoot one ball at a time in an alternating fashion.

Southern And Le Trou Madame

Southern Bagatelle makes use of seven white balls and two red ones as well as a larger table and is usually played to a score of 121. Le Trou Madame is played just like the Mississippi version except when a ball goes through an arch and falls into any of the pockets, any points scored here are included in the points total as well.

The History of Pinball

Early Stages

Bagatelle maintained its state throughout the years until 1869, when Montague Redgrave, a British inventor, made some changes to the game. These alterations were so effective that he received a U.S. Patent for his work. Plus, the changes marked the birth of pinball. In the early 1930s, pinball machines appeared as countertop machines. However, manufacturers started adding legs in 1932.

Before, countertop pinball machines had no flippers and did not use electricity. To play, a plunger or stick would propel ball bearings up an incline. These balls then rolled down the incline, bouncing off pins and settling in pockets with different scoring values. Players calculated their scores at the end of each round.


In 1933, however, an electrically powered solenoid was first used, and this saw the inclusion of electric lights in countertop pinball machines as a standard feature. Later on, in 1947, player-controlled flippers were included to keep the ball in action for longer.

Each consecutive year welcomed further advancement in technology, and in the 1970s microprocessors were first used, catapulting the classic game to the world of electronic gaming. Eventually, arcades replaced pinball machines with video games in the 1980s.

Software vs. Hardware

Today, variations of pinball that are entirely software-based are being sold. These variations are developed for gaming devices, computers, and handhelds. However, it is worth going back to pinball’s roots in Bagatelle, and discussing how different the two games are.

The 5 Main Differences Between Pinball And Bagatelle

1. The Type Of Balls Used

One of the changes that Redgrave made to the Bagatelle board was the use of marbles instead of steel balls. The marbles were smaller and lighter, making them able to easily fit into the new compact design. In addition, they could easily bounce off the steel pins that replaced the larger pegs of the Bagatelle game.

In contrast, Bagatelle was a miniature pool game that relied on strength and efficiency. Since the game included huge wickets, the balls had to be larger and sturdier to smoothly move across the hurdles.

2. The Number Of Balls Used

The earlier versions of pinball allowed players to achieve their objective with ten balls. Like Bagatelle, different variations of the game surfaced, and each had its requirements in terms of ball numbers. The only element that remained constant was the rules of the game.

Bagatelle maintained its 9-ball requirement across all its versions. One distinct feature among the variants is that players receive the balls in different quantities (all adding up to 9) and colors depending on the version. Although Bagatelle is mostly a game of skill, it is sometimes a game of luck, much like its pinball counterpart.

3. The Size Of The Table

Times were tough in the 1930s when pinball was introduced, and so it was designed to bring joy and excitement into the people’s lives. One way this was achieved was by making the Bagatelle tables smaller. This way, a player could enjoy the game as an individual and not have any difficulties handling it at home. In addition, the smaller table made it easier to keep track of the balls.

Bagatelle was generally a people’s game. Its massive table made it possible for more people to play. Of course, as the game gained popularity in various parts of the world, varieties with smaller tables, such as Bell Bagatelle, were introduced. Interestingly, the Bell Bagatelle variation was the closest indication of what a pinball machine would eventually look like.

4. The Use Of Coins

A change in design meant that players would have to part with a coin to play pinball. To play, you had to insert a coin into the pinball machine. This unlocks a spring plunger which you could use to catapult a ball up an alley on the side of the glass-topped, raised playing platform. From the top, the ball falls through gates, between posts, and off bumpers.

Bagatelle was a simple game that didn’t need much to operate. You could play to your heart’s content at no cost with just a mace or billiard cue and nine balls. While both games have always been about fun, there is no doubt that pinball has become a very profitable tool for games companies, bars and other venues across the world.

5. The Games’ Histories

Despite being an iconic game, pinball was seen as a danger from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s. This was after pinball machines with luminescent fields that kept score were introduced in the late 1930s. The U.S. government saw this as a gambling tactic and outlawed the game in several major U.S. cities. These included Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, where the game was created.

Any pinball machine that was found still being used during this period was destroyed by the New York police. It wasn’t until April 1976, when Roger Sharpe not only testified of pinball’s harmless nature but proved it by playing a pinball game in the courtroom as well, that the government lifted the ban.

Bagatelle has always been a game of skill. Therefore, it’s never been on the wrong end of the law, with no governments deeming it to be involved in gambling.

Final Thoughts

While pinball has its roots in Bagatelle, the two games are very different. From the number and type of balls used to the size of the tables, pinball and Bagatelle are still often compared to each other. Bagatelle is a game that relies mostly on skill, with a little bit of luck involved. Pinball on the other hand involves a lot of luck, which has led to the games having two very different histories.