A Fun Game Between Pals

Modern interpretations of classics can be both exciting and refreshing. As new soft darts games become more and more popular, especially in Dongguan, where Pals just held their 7th championship, greater numbers of fans are sure to follow. Will you be next?

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“You can’t stand there while I’m throwing. Come back here,” Lucy Molloy, owner and general manager of Pals Family Restaurant, told me as I was closely studying one type of electronic dart board machine now trending around Dongguan.

Both Lucy and her husband Peter are unabashedly enthusiastic about the game of darts. For many years now, they’ve supported the sport with weekly tournaments in their past and present bars.

“Darts is all about camaraderie. You get a bunch of guys, you sit, eat and talk. It’s about a good group of people together having fun. I like playing darts because it’s relaxing, yet competitive,” Peter said.

The original premise is simple: take what essentially amounts to a sized-down arrow and fire it at a circular target that’s compartmentalized by a straightforward point system.

“People think the most important thing is the bull (bull’s eye), but really it’s about hitting the triple 20,” Peter explained to us, dispelling a typical misconception.

There are curious skill-testing options where the screen tells you which number to hit and every time you get it right, you’ll pop one of your competitor’s balloons. Destroy all their balloons and they’ll fall into the water where a shark is waiting for dinner.

These days, purists may scoff at the flashy, new machines that are almost certainly aimed at attracting a younger crowd, but the strategy seems to be working. It might be the lights or the bombastic audio, but this form of the game does appear to be a bit more thrilling than the conventional board (read: sorry old timers).

It all starts by browsing through the menu of countless games, all designed with different rules and tactics. Sure, there are the basic point games like 501 and 701, but there are also a whole lot more from which to choose.

There are curious skill-testing options where the screen tells you which number to hit and every time you get it right, you’ll pop one of your competitor’s balloons. Destroy all their balloons and they’ll fall into the water where a shark is waiting for dinner. This is all animated, of course. To our knowledge, no one has actually been eaten at Pals.

1116_play_2It’s not only the games that make the playing fun, but all the little touches. For example, a foray into online play lets you choose an opponent from anywhere around the world. After selecting a game, a series of cameras activate and now you and your challenger can both watch each other’s throws. There’s also an additional camera watching the board. Peter told me this is to prevent any cheating.

This version of the game is also much safer for those sessions when drinks have been flowing liberally or when you simply want to get the kids involved.

“Steel tip darts can really hurt you if you get caught in front of one, but these plastic darts would be no problem,” Peter told us.

For one-off games, these electronic boards are easier to score than the traditional variety. Still, make no mistake, challengers on these machines are just as serious as in any other form of the game.

The company who makes this particular system offers a membership card in the size of a typical credit card or a much smaller form that will hang on your keychain. Using the card is the only way to continually monitor your gameplay history.

Before starting a game, you simply scan your card exactly like a contact-less paying credit card to download all your previous scores and statistics. There’s an ongoing ranking system that players dutifully respect; upgrading is an honor and not for the faint of heart. Also, the card is required for online play.

Perhaps the best aspect of playing particularly at Pals (though, admittedly, I haven’t tried anywhere else), is that both Lucy and Peter love the game and want others to love it, too.

“Anyone new that comes in to play, no problem, we’ll teach them how to play. We want customers to have fun. I’m here all the time. Maybe someone tells us, ‘oh, I’m not good, I don’t know how to play.’ It’s okay, I want to teach you how to play,” Lucy told us. Peter said the same.

Honestly, going in, I had casually played around on dart boards before, but didn’t find them to be anything special. The electronic boards are no doubt exciting, and with all the different games and option to play people from all over the world, they should keep you busy for plenty-a-night.

“You’ll never get good if you don’t practice,” Peter mentioned encouragingly. Okay, we’ll stick around for a few more. Another round, please!

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