Ride a snail to Killer Queen victory at ALT Brew in September

The 10-player arcade cabinet comes to Madison.


Gamers play a Killer Queen cabinet at the game's 2016

Gamers play a Killer Queen cabinet at the game’s 2016 “BumbleBash” tournament in Austin, Texas. Photo by Michael Dunn on Flickr.

Killer Queen—the 10-player team-based arcade game that plays like Dota and Joust had a 16-bit baby—is coming to ALT Brew on Madison’s east side. (Update: It’s here.) It’s one of a small but growing number of mammoth cooperative arcade cabinets like it in the country, and would add some serious credibility to Madison’s growing barcade scene.

Hilton Jones, who has been stocking a regular rotation of pinball machines at ALT Brew, Maria’s at Art In, Pooley’s, and Schwoegler’s with a business partner via Madison Pinball, confirmed Thursday that the game will take over a portion of ALT Brew’s rear arcade space in September. The group organizing leagues and community events around the machine—common in other cities like Chicago, where full-on Killer Queen leagues have popped up—has already started drumming up hype on Reddit.  

If you’re asking how a 10-player arcade game even works in practice, observe this video of competitive Killer Queen play.

As you can see, Killer Queen is e-sports. More specifically, each team gets a Queen and four worker players. Workers can either gather berries to work toward an economic victory, supercharge themselves into Soldiers and attack the opposing team’s Queen for a military victory, or ride a snail into the opposing team’s goal for a snail victory. The combination of pick-up-and-play mechanics with complex multi-variable objectives makes for game that’s frenetic, friendly, and complex. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching your opponents duke it out, picking off Soldiers and having near-misses with jumps and attacks on Queens, only to ride a snail to victory.

It’s also a game that demands a pretty constant influx of players to keep it fun and fresh, which is why Jones has been working behind the scenes to get a community around the game before the cabinet even arrives. “Killer Queen is all about meeting new people, making new friends, and becoming part of something,” says Jones in an email. He’s tapped two fans of the game—one of which had a hand in building up the Killer Queen league at Portland’s Ground Kontrol barcade—to run weekly meet-ups and a monthly “flight school” to teach new players how to play the game in a friendly environment. Eventually, they plan on working with teams in Chicago and the Twin Cities to host cross-city events around the game.

The Killer Queen league nights at the Logan Arcade in Chicago were one of the highlights of my three years living there—particularly the community’s efforts to include and welcome new players while bringing in top-tier players to show off high level play. That said, the league was held at an arcade at the nexus of train lines, the interstate and the entire CTA bus system. The place was always packed with people and pulling in 10 for a match was never an issue. Without that kind of natural foot traffic, can Madison’s Killer Queen cabinet attract those kinds of crowds?

Despite being a ways out from campus and Madison’s downtown, Jones is confident that this is the right space for building a community around the game. “ALT Brew is a family run business and of course has already been a great partner with Madison Pinball, so they were a natural fit,” writes Jones. “It allows enough room to watch the action and still not feel like you are in anyone’s way.”

Kyla Gardner/DNAinfo

Kyla Gardner/DNAinfo

Madison hasn’t seen a shake-up to its arcade scene like this since the great Monona Arcade Wars ended in a detente between Rossi’s Pizza and Brad Van’s Aftershock Retrogames. In the intervening few years, Aftershock has sprinkled classic arcade cabinets around town in twos and threes. Madison Pinball’s ambitious mix of newer pinball machines and now the KQ cabinet certainly adds something new to the mix. It also remains to be seen what this means for the forthcoming IO Gaming Bar. The bar’s website hints at an emphasis on televised e-sports like tournaments for popular online games like League Of Legends and Dota, so a competitive game with a surrounding scene would seem at home there as well. But despite the fact that Killer Queen cabinets are currently manufactured in New Lisbon, Wisconsin (yay manufacturing jobs!), Jones indicated that it was pretty unlikely that two Madison barcades would be licensed new machines in such short succession. The machines are also a big investment, with a reported starting cost of $11,500 each.

Reservations about the location aside, it’s clear that Jones and Madison Pinball value the community building around their machines, which is encouraging for the future of an ambitiously social game like Killer Queen. The beer is great, and drones will be ready to take their positions. All everyone has to do is show up in September. If you’re interested, stay tuned to their Facebook group for updates.

Update: At the time of publication, we reported that IO Gaming Bar would open this fall. We’ve since heard from Mitchell Turino, one of the owners of the new venue, who wrote us to say that “it’s looking like the premiere date has been moved back to Q4, maybe even early 2018.” The delay stems from a decision to seek a new location, since the barcade wasn’t workable in the West Washington Avenue location they had been targeting.

Kyla Gardner/DNAinfo

Kyla Gardner/DNAinfo

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