Adventures in East Asia

How to Win at Prize Grabbing Crane Game Machines

Prize grabbing machines or Crane Games seem to be everywhere in Tokyo - at least in areas populated with consumer entertainment establishments. Places such as the Taito game stations and Club Sega stores have highly visible signage that for some reason, get my attention amidst all other stores on a typical busy street (!).


There seem to be more of these prize machine places than in Hong Kong, so its inevitable that we give them a whirl. I just didn't know that it would wind us up so much on the first day in Shinjuku!



The nature of crane games

For anyone who has never seen these, prize grabbing crane games place all manner of prizes inside a clear unit, and you need to control a crane, sometimes having only one chance to move it left or right and one chance to go back or forth, in order to grab the prize.


What you can win

Prizes include soft toys, small and large, figurines, packs of sweets, rolled up blankets and even ice-creams. Since there are so many in Tokyo, we saw machines that offered all kinds of crap - desirable to some I'm sure - as long as they could be won.


The cost of crane games

We find ourselves popping in and out of several places, checking out the prizes on offer and the ease at which to get them and end up spending more time in a place in between the East and South entrances of Shinjuku station. A credit on a machine costs around 100-200JPY (68p - £1.35) and we give a few machines a go where the prizes look a little easier to get.

We're suckers of course - I'm sure the prizes, mostly soft toys, are placed to look easy, but aren't always easy to get.


The strategy behind crane games

Checking out other players, we notice there's a "strategy" involved and it often requires multiple attempts to get the prizes. The cost of credits also decreases if you pay up for several credits at once.

For anyone who's tried these crane games, its all too easy to get tempted with a (single) chance, try to pick-up the prize and then get discouraged by a less-than-impressive crane grip. "Grip" isn't really the right word since the cranes rarely have any gripping texture and crane fingers are hinged loosely so that they can't actually clamp together on anything.

For large soft toys, we found that they need to be pushed and prodded bit by bit until they fall. Sometimes an attempt to grab might help manouveur the prize, but other times, it can help to use the outside edge of either side of the crane to push. Another way is also to push down on a toy if it helps to leverage it in place. Using our "strategy" we take several goes and Linh is ecstatic that I win her a Melody soft toy.

We found it's also essential to watch how far the crane moves down and how wide it opens up so you can gauge where to drop it. This isn't obvious to do (until after!) since players are anxiously watching how the crane fares rather than what its moving limitations are.

Like coin slot machines, you can also watch others play as they might also help nudge a prize over before giving up, so that you can take over.

Winning boxed figurine prizes

As well as soft toys, we also saw lots of figurine prizes which are displayed in boxes. These are won by successfully inserting the crane fingers (usually two) into holes on either side of a box.

Watching others also helps to gauge how easy or not particular prizes are, which isn't always obvious. For instance, we saw lots of players correctly "grab" the figurine boxes (small ones) only for the crane fingers to slip out with the weight.

However, we also saw players on a machine containing larger and heavier boxes (a twelve inch high Alien figure). We wouldn't have even given this a second glance except that these players won three prizes in a row! We also played after them and after successfully aligning the fingers with the holes first time (which wasn't difficult), we were able to get the prize.

Getting "help" from staff

In Tokyo, these prize grabbing places are often manned by several active staff, so the machines with larger prizes are often set up to offer a single prize at a time, and when won, a new prize is positioned in its place.

Linh had set her heart on a Hello Kitty soft toy and we tried a few times unsuccessfully on one machine. Some other travellers also tried after us, and failed. However, a kindly staff member - probably a manager, had sympathy on them and opened up the machine to move the toy closer to the hole making it easier. Of course, they won the prize on their next go and watching it all, Linh promptly put on her most helpless expression and made noises to the manager to do the same for her.


We won the Hello Kitty toy after that and Linh's gleefulness lasted as long as it took for her to realise the size difference between both toys, and declaring her wish for a larger Hello Kitty...

I need a drink. Anyone else have any tips too that they'd like to share?

This entry posted in : Entertainment. Japan.

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