Classic slots are increasingly popular in 2019. We have our theories as to why that is, and we’ll run over a few of those later, and we’ll also have a look at what makes a classic slot machine, and some of the top classic slot game titles at your favourite UK casino sites.
Classic slots offer a reassuringly traditional experience for players, but today’s games can still pack in a load of the latest gameplay innovations too.
To understand classic slots we have to go right back to the beginning of the slot machine, and that’s where we’ll start our free classic slots guide.
Best Casinos to Play Classic Slots
Classic Slots List
The Original Classics: the History of Slot Machines
The slot machine is, in its original form, an automated card game. The first machines were explicitly linked to card games and the reels had actual playing cards stuck to them: you put your money in, round the reels went, and you hoped for a winning poker hand.
The same simple mechanics apply to the vast majority of slot machines today.
The law intervened first. Gambling has often been on the wrong side of the law, particularly in America, where games of chance played for money have often existed in a half-lit world of semi-legality.
It’s this that has made gambling such a popular activity for organised crime gangs to invest in: huge numbers of people want to do it and don’t have a great moral problem with it, people enjoy it, and it’s illegal (see also drugs, sex work, and alcohol during prohibition).
In order to get around laws that made playing cards for money illegal, the people who owned those early slot machines looked for a way around it. The cash prizes went – replaced with good (often chewing gum) or drinks – and the cards went, replaced with symbols like cherries, and so we have the original fruit machines.
From there, the industry spiralled off in all directions. But, today, even if you’re watching blocks with images of space monkeys lining up in front of your screen, you’re still performing the same mechanical task as those spinning cards were.
What Makes a Classic Slot Game Today?
So, if all games are classic in that reductive sense then no games are “classic” for our purposes.
That’s not the case, of course, and the term classic has come to have a particular meaning.
Sadly, there is not an International Convention of Naming Protocols in the Online Video Slot Industry to narrowly define what a classic slot is.
(You might also see “classic” slots referred to in other ways. Maybe as “retro” or “fruit machines” which represents the way these games were most often referred to in commonly spoken UK English.)
It’s quite a broad term, then, but most players will know a classic when they see one or have their own idea of what they need to see in a game to call it a classic. The main thing is that you play games that you enjoy.
So what might you enjoy in a “classic”?
Classics Mean Simpler Games
Online gambling and casino world loves innovation. Since some clever guy thumbed his nose at the law by taking the cards off spinning reels and sticking fruit symbols on in their place the slot machine has morphed in a million ways.
A classic will hark back to simpler gameplay.
The fundamentals of slot play are all delivered in the base game. You place a stake, press a button, the reels spin, and you are awarded if the reels stop in a way that delivers a set of matching symbols that line up along a pay-line.
The closer to that model that a modern slot is the more likely it is to be a classic slot. (Please consider this disclaimer added to all descriptions in this classic slot guide: “It is not possible to produce a scientific definition of a slot genre, the borders are fuzzy.”)
A slot with just a base game and no bonus rounds would certainly be considered a classic slot by most people. But that doesn’t mean that all classic slots have no bonus games.
Classics Mean Fewer Symbols
Similarly, a slot with just three reels is very likely to be a classic slot. The standard set-up today is a five-by-three playing area with five reels (the vertically aligned symbols) and three rows of symbols. If you see a game with just three reels, it’s probably a classic. For years, slot games in the real world were three-reel games, including the very first slot games.
Across those symbols run the pay lines.
Pay lines are the mechanism along which sets of symbols are counted.
A truly classic slot, let’s put our feet down here, would have ONE pay line and it would be a straight line across the middle of three reels, awarding players for a set of three symbols.
Really, classic slot purists, that is what you must demand!
However, there are few games that offer that level of simplicity these days. You may see the odd game that has three pay lines: a central one, and two diagonals, and classic slots are likely to have a smaller playing area and fewer pay lines. Some slot games now offer thousands of “ways to win” and a load of different ways of combing symbols.
You should expect a truly classic slot to eschew these methods and go with fewer pay lines operating in a simpler way.
Classic Slots Are All About the Spin, Baby!
The modern slot machine might well feature tumbling rocks with symbols apparently carved on them. It might feature stars exploding into supernovas that deliver sets of symbols.
Classic slots should spin!
These games should be all about reels. They may have five or they may have three (we think any other numbers are going too far from the classic slot genre), but they should have reels spinning as the main way of delivering the symbols.
What’s On a Classic Slot’s Reels?
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen as a slot symbol? Aliens? Blobs? Random abstract shapes?
There’s a whole load of choice to the intrepid slot designer in 2019. However, the classic slot designer needs to rein himself in!
The classic slot game – please see our disclaimer: #NotAllClassicSlots – generally uses a set of symbols that come from back in the day when British slot players were playing their games in sticky-floored pubs with carpets with more colours than physics allows.
The general run of classic slots symbols might include, but needn’t be limited to:
Cards are favourites across all genres of the slot world as low-paying symbols. Sometimes, if we’re honest, this is lazy design, but in the classic slot, a run of card symbols fits the brief perfectly. They’ll be in the style of the game, and may go from nines to aces or be a shorter run, from 10s, but playing cards really belong in a classic slot and have roots as old as the game itself.
They’re called fruit machines, aren’t they? And that wasn’t just slang, the games had fruity symbols in them! Originally, the fruits (replacing cards as we’ve seen) symbolised flavourful prizes, and they stayed on well into the heyday of the off-line slot. Now, fruits is a wide category, including tomatoes as all quiz fans know, but the slot machine fruit tray is a little more limited. Favourites are cherries (often the top-paying); strawberries; melons; grapes, lemons and oranges… they tend to be colourful and with simple graphical qualities. They also need to stand out from one another, as players care most about spotting their wins.
Ding dong, the wins are in! Bells are a classic fruit favourite. Sometimes single ones, sometimes sets of two or three, that come with increased prizes for extra bells. We’re back in history again, with the 1898 Liberty Bell Slot Machine designed by Charles Fey, the San Francisco inventor who came up with lots of gambling innovations (and couldn’t patent them because of California law).
Sevens are considered lucky. We had no idea why until we did what you were about to do and Googled, “why are 7s lucky”, and found out that it probably relates back to the Bible. Sevens are generally higher paying symbols and may come in sets, with pairs and trebles scoring more.
Bars: now bars we know all about! This is another historical reference. When fruit machines were paying out in actual food, chewing gum was among the most popular prizes. It doesn’t go off, it comes in small packets, and it’s easy to carry. That gum was often from the Bell-Gum Fruit company, whose logo was a bar. There’s also a suggestion that the bars were a stylized drawing of a packet of a gum that replaced photos. Either way, the bars come in as a high paying symbol in many classic slot games. They can come in pairs, trebles, and a load of other variants, and are symbols almost as old as the slot game itself.
5. Diamonds and gems
The attraction here is obvious: we play slots to win money, and the most obvious manifestation of wealth is precious stones. You might also add bags of gold, piles of coins, or simple currency symbols here.
Should a Classic Slot Game Have A Bonus Round?
We’ve pointed out that classic slots are usually simpler, but, a slot game without a bonus game is going to struggle to attract attention in the current market. And to be retro, one doesn’t have to go back to the 1910s – the 1980s are fine, and games back then had a whole load of bonus features.
However, the bonus features in a classic slot are likely to be somewhat simpler, and they’re likely to hark back to the sort of features that newer machines have left behind.
Wilds are the base game classic bonus option. A wild changes into a game symbol in order to give the best winning combo. Scatters are bonus symbols that are usually used to trigger bonus rounds. Scatters can form sets when they aren’t connected – hence the name – and often offer big pay-outs as well as delivering you into the bonus feature.
Free spins are the classic online slot bonus game. So you should expect to see them in classic slots. Don’t expect massive character-driven variants on your free spins though. It should be a straight in-and-out free spin game.
Multipliers are nice, and they’re easy to deliver, and multipliers on wins are perfectly at home in the classic slot.
Gamble features are extremely classic. They can take a number of forms, but the classic way to go is the yes/no gamble. You’ll be offered a binary choice, usually red/black on the turn of a card, and if you get it right your win is doubled, and if you get it wrong, you lose your win. There’s often a limit to the number of times that you can retrigger gamble bonuses, and you may simply fall back a step in the prize ladder rather than going to zero as you go up a progressive set of prizes.
Prize picks: among the simplest – and thus most classic – bonus games, is a simple choice of objects, behind which lie a set of prizes.
Wheels of fortune: straight out of the fairground, and cheap TV gameshows are spinning lucky wheels with a set of prizes on them. Press a button and watch them spin, or press a button to start them stopping, and you’ll get the prize that the wheel stops on.
Skill games are not new! Skill games that look like the latest video games are new, but a load of classic cabinet games had skill games. They were usually very rudimentary skill games based on stopping a light flashing in the “on” position, or stopping a series of lights at the right point to win a prize. These games usually operated as a sort of gamble option, because the flashing of the light or the running of the sequence of lights will eventually become so fast that the choice is effectively random. This is not so easy to deliver over the internet as it is in the real world, but you will see this sort of skill game in a classic slot.
This is far from a comprehensive guide to classic slots, but it’s a start.
Why Do People Like Classic Slots?
Classic slot machines are retro. They hark back to the past. And we’ve made the point that the online slots world is obsessed with novelty. So why are people playing games that look like old games??!?
First of all, there’s a marketing truth here. Leave something alone long enough and it becomes new again. This is most obviously seen in the relentlessly recycling world of the pop and fashion markets. Get to our age and you’ll have the dubious please of seeing everything you grew up with and thought was new and exciting recycled by another generation. When I was a kid we looked back to the 1960s. Now, kids look back to my 80s childhood as a golden age. (They’re wrong, but it’s fine.)
There’s also a nice little paradox in the advance of technology. Online gambling came of age in the heyday of the desktop computer. The internet was high speed, and the screen was big. And now, everyone plays on mobiles. Mobiles are getting faster and better, but the medium is going through the same evolution as desktops did. And games that are simpler work better on mobiles. This will change, and more complexity will come in, but the smaller screen for a start favours three-reel games with simple graphical symbols. Any complexity in the control of the game is also rendered harder on touch screens, and a simple spin button and not much else is fantastic.
Classic slots become classic slots because they’re good. That’s not to say that titles become classics, there aren’t many game titles from the days of classic fruit machines that are now played online, but the elements that work have stayed in place.
Looking at the history here you’ll no doubt be aware that any modern online mobile slots player could walk into a bar in the late 19th century and have no trouble understanding the very first slot machines. Whether a 19th-century player could do the same journey in reverse is slightly more questionable, but if they picked a classic slot they would have less trouble getting their heads around it.
What a Classic Slot is not
In time the definition of a classic slot will move on. The black and white films that were classics when I was a kid have now been replaced in the classics pantheon by films that I ignored when I was growing up. And so time will inexorably eat up the current classic slot definition and the features that are brand new now will become classics.
But currently, a classic is looking back to a simpler era. In time, the super sophisticated Scandi games of today will inspire their own classics, but currently, it’s simple fruit machines.
Classic is a style rather than a title. Games like Starburst, are both long-lived and popular enough to warrant classic status and classic in style. But Gonzo’s Quest is long-lived and popular – and arguably an individual classic – while not being a classic in style.
Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate this is to look at some of the most popular current classic titles.
Your Favourite Classic Slot Machines
We looked at the rankings in a well-regarded industry audit site to find some of the most popular classic games.
Their most popular titles were:
Twin Spin: a NetEnt title that mixes classic symbols (bells, 7s, cherries, diamonds) with very modern gameplay.
Grand Spinn is another NetEnt title, which is genuinely incredibly old-fashioned, with its single pay line and three-by-three grid. We said games like these were rare, but if they prove to be as popular as this one you can expect to see more of them, especially as producing them is going to be cheaper for the slot designers. There’s also a progressive jackpot version of this game, called Grand Spinn Superpot.
Fire Joker is a three-by-three grid fruit game from Play’n GO with a lucky wheel bonus round and just five pay lines.
7s to Burn is from Barcrest (there are those bars!) that uses very simplistic graphics and cabinet game aesthetics to deliver a classic game feel to players.
Win Win is an ELK Studios three-by-three with a massive top prize and a great, modern look.
Mystery Reels is from Red Tiger and is a five-by-three game using fruit symbols.
There are plenty of other classic slots listed, including some we’d argue aren’t true classics because they have secondary theming – Egyptian for example – but, well, it’s not something to go to war about.
Should You Play Classic Slot Games?
Absolutely you should play classic slot games. If you enjoy them. All of these things are matters of taste, and lord knows we’ve been driven away from enough games by (what we and we alone think) overly-simple graphics or horrific bleeping soundtracks.
Classic slot machines are generally a good way into the slot machine world and the online video slot world because they’re relatively simple to play.
If you’re a mobile player you’re bound to see a load of these games offered to you at the moment, and there’s no good reason not to try them out as far as we’re concerned.
Some are really easy on the eye, and these simple games are made to draw in large numbers of players to deliver really big progressive jackpots, which is why classic slots have some of the biggest prizes.
You may not like classic slots after you’ve tried them. You may want to move on to more sophisticated games, but someone who has never played a classic slot is missing out. And online classic slots come with the added bonus that you don’t have to attend a 1980s British pub to enjoy one!