Is there a more fun arcade game out there than air hockey?! I know, I know… foosball has its fans. And I get it: I’m one of them. I just think for ease of play (from kids to *ahem* ‘bigger kids’), speed and intensity of the play, and just sheer fun, the paddles and the pucks have my vote.
The puck flying around the air hockey table after each whack, your eyes desperately following it across the surface, your hands-on edge as they wait for your opponent's reply.
That puck hovering across the surface at a crazy speed.
The sound of the paddle-on-puck contact, then the ricochet of the cushions, then when they go in the goal. The latter noise is usually accompanied by a high-pitched scream from the scorer. (Or is that just me?)
They have been a favorite in arcade halls and bowling alleys for years, and increasingly they have found their way into bars and even the family home. If you are lucky enough to be considering one - for whatever reason - the hard part can actually be where to start. We’ve all played the game, but not many know what to look for and consider when buying a table. Luckily the guy who’s blabbering at you on this page happens to be one of them! And in this article, I will give you my 12 pro tips to make sure you get the hockey table that’s best for you.
How to choose the best Air Hockey Table?
1. Establish a budget first
In a perfect world, money is no option, and we just plump for the biggest and coolest table there is. Until that day comes, you need to work with what you have! Work out how much you can realistically spend, and this is the starting point for your search. List your non-negotiables (in size and features), set aside a budget - vowing to stick to it - and you’re ready to go.
2. Consider who the table is for
Who it is for will guide you in terms of what size you need, which features you want, and how much you need to spend. There are three rough categories here:
- Beginner table: if you are a newbie, then you don’t really need anything extravagant. If it is primarily children playing there, the same. And you may want to consider the size too if it is predominantly kids that will be using it. Cheaper tables are not as durable, though, so if you foresee there being constant usage or it becoming very popular, you’ll probably be best just investing in the next category up, right from the start: “buy cheap, buy twice”, as my mum loved to say!
- Intermediate table: If you have developed a passion for the game, but you’re not ready to turn pro just yet, then an intermediate should be enough. There is a fantastic range of quality tables in this range, as prices have come down in recent years so that you won’t be compromising too much on quality. They won’t have all the bells and whistles of the flashier models, of course, but they are well-built, and if you look after them, there’s no reason you won’t have them for years to come.
- Advanced players: Ok, these will require the proper, competition-standard tables. The kinds you’re more likely to see in an arcade than your mate’s games room. You’ll be paying for the extra, but these are super-durable, superbly engineered, and they should be a lifetime investment.
3. Consider the size of your room
Where are you planning to put it and how big is the room? These are also fundamental questions that will guide your search and your decision-making. A full-size will need a good 7 or 8 feet around, plus an extra meter around for the players to move freely.
One advantage air hockey tables have over pool tables, for example, is that they can have one side going against a wall, so you don’t need quite so much space for them.
It’s also worth considering how you are going to get it in the room! Although the legs are detachable, the table itself is a big piece of kit. Have a think about the logistics of how you’re going to get it into your house, then into the room.
4. Consider the style of the room
The likelihood is that the table will be a feature piece of whatever room you are putting it in, so you need to consider fitting it into the existing aesthetic. If you’re going for, say, the retro, arcade look, then you want bold and colorful; if you have a more modern look, then maybe something a bit more classic.
5. Prioritize quality materials and build
Here we are again with the “buy cheap, buy twice!”.
As you’ll know, air hockey can be an intense and pretty physical game! The table invariably gets leaned over and knocked with thighs, elbows, and all sorts! So you need to pick one with materials that can take those bumps in its stride that is made with them in mind.
The best tables are made from MDF, a sturdy but lightweight wood composite, then coated with plastic or laminate. Laminate, preferably. You need that surface to be nice and smooth as the whole gameplay hinges on the puck being able to fly across without any friction.
Tables with a tapered design are the best, but they can be pricier - not to mention chunkier - so as long you can take care of them, the squared models can still last you a long time.
Lastly, the rink walls would likely never cross your mind, but they play a large role in the smoothness and quality of the gameplay. So they are something that should not be ignored either.
You want those true rebound qualities to make for a proper game, with the puck reacting the way you expect. Rink walls should be made from nylon (the cheaper ones) or aluminum (the higher-end ones).
6. Make sure you buy a table with leg levelers
This should be one of your ‘non-negotiables’. These ensure - as the name implies - that the table is always leveled, even if the flooring isn’t. This makes for a fairer game and fewer arguments. And yes, that is the voice of experience there!
7. Think about which scoring system you want
The digital scoring systems are the ones you are probably most familiar with from the arcades etc. A digital board above the table shows the score, with sensors telling it when the puck goes into either goal, then reflecting this on the board above.
The beauty here is that it’s all done automatically. No chalkboard or pen and paper. Nor relying on memory in the heat of battle. No quibbles over what it was.
You can still get the old-school abacus ones around, which some people like for the traditional feel, but they can be harder to come by.
8. Consider if you need a power source and where it is situated
Assuming you aren’t buying a smaller or cheaper kids table, then the likelihood is that you’ll need a power source, and so this is something you need to consider too. This will impact where in the room you can place the table as well.
Where does an air hockey table need electricity? Not only the digital scoreboards (though some use batteries here), but the reason that puck can whizz across at such speeds is that they have single/dual fans blowing air through the holes to give that frictionless playing surface.
Most air hockey tables come with an AC adapter connected directly to a power source.
9. Think about which puck and paddle you need/ prefer
The size of the table itself often determines these. Still, you might have a choice in which size and shape you like.
You can have different shape paddles—some with felt below, some without.
The pucks not only come in a variety of shapes (including octagonal and triangular), and in pretty much every color in the rainbow but also a host of different sizes. These are essential factors in the gameplay too. The smaller, lighter ones are fine on smaller tables, but you need the larger pucks to stop them from flying off the table every couple of shots for the more serious games. Plus, the extra weight helps them skim further and faster.
10. Check which blower motors the table has
These are where the magic happens, so you need these to be of decent quality. The hundreds of tiny holes beneath the playing surface allow air to flow through that gives the pucks their elevation, and the game its fast-paced, relentless quality.
The higher-end tables will have teeny holes close to each other, barely noticeable unless you are looking for them. The cheaper tables use larger holes and fewer of them. They are still perfectly playable, but if this is the case, I’d recommend going for tables that include a laminate surface too. This will negate some of the potential effects.
But if it’s just you and a few mates, nothing too serious, then a single motor is perfectly adequate. It’s only if you are playing on a more competitive level where potential issues like inconsistent air pressure throughout the table are really a factor.
The more powerful, the better too. A powerful motor ensures there is even airflow throughout the playing surface. They also tend to be a bit quieter, which is an added bonus. Good quality motors won’t overheat and will let the gameplay continue for more extended periods of time. Plenum chambers are ideal here if you can afford them - they allow for the very smoothest in gameplay.
11. A little bit of TLC goes a long way!
They aren’t cheap, but if you buy a decent table and look after it, there’s no reason why it can’t be the only table you’ll ever need.
Most need just a little bit of maintenance to keep them tip-top. First and foremost, keep that playing surface clean. Check your manufacturer's instructions for any specific cleaning instructions, though most are pretty standard. A regular surface cleaner is fine and just every once in a while to ensure the air holes don’t get blocked. This ensures a smoother surface and prevents any build-up of grime or dust. Run the fan while you are polishing to blow out any cleaner that might have sneaked into the holes. Every six months or so, have a little check of the fan unit inside which can get clogged with dust too. A little spring clean here is usually fine.
As you can see, it’s not a huge effort, but these little bits make all the difference to the gameplay and durability of the table.
12. Be mindful of the customer service of your supplier
This is an easy thing to overlook in the excitement of your search, but it’s definitely something you need to consider. If you are buying from a foreign supplier, do you have any recourse if something goes wrong? Check out the warranty, returns policy, and reviews. If you need help setting it up or a replacement piece, do they have an easy way to contact them? These are things that rarely get a second thought until they are needed, and (quite often) it’s too late. Buying from a reputable company whose reputation relies on proper customer service and who value their customers is something that will more than pay for itself later on.
You can also check our article on the 20 Great Bar Games: The Ultimate List.
So there you have it! I hope I’ve given you a solid foundation to start your search for the best air hockey table for you.
Although they have gotten much cheaper in recent years, it is still a significant investment - especially if you heed my tip to go for a quality one that promises more longevity - so a little bit of thinking time and shopping around pays off in the long run.
If you have any further questions about air hockey tables or would like to have a look at our range, pop along to thegameroomplus.com, where we really do have something for everyone. Even if I do say so myself!