Everything you Need to Know about Slot Game Features – Read this to Get an Edge Playing the Spinning Reels
Slots are by far the most common game you’ll find at online casinos today. The typical casino will have many hundreds available to play. Because of their growing popularity, or indeed, as a result of it, you can expect to find them in all sorts of themes with a mix of different features. They’re incredibly diverse - much more so than any other casino game - and there are always new ones hitting the casino floor with never-been-seen themes and fresh, unique gameplay features.
What makes them particularly appealing for many is the fact that they’re very easy to play. Casino games like blackjack and poker involve elements of skill, strategy, and decision-making. With the slots, the only real way to influence the outcome starts with a good understanding of the game features they possess. Here’s a look at some of the key elements and features common to most video slots.
- The Reels
- The Paylines
- All-Ways-Win Paylines
- Expanding Symbols
- Gamble Feature
- Bonus Round
- Free Spins
- Progressive Jackpot
- Final Thoughts
A reel is a column on which symbols can appear. Most modern video slots have the standard layout of three rows and five reels, with a total of 15 symbols visible on the screen at any one time. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to reels on the slot. Some may have four reels, while some may have six, seven or more. There are even some that have an unconventional reel set with different numbers of rows for different reels. NetEnt’s Jumanji is a good example, as it has a 3-4-5-4-3 structure. This means that reels one and five both have just 3 rows, while reels two and four have 4 rows and reel five has 5 rows.
Some slots have expanding reels, i.e. reel sets that can grow when specific requirements are met. Playtech’s Wolves! Wolves! Wolves!, for example, is played on a standard three-row, five-reel layout. At any point in the base game, up to six extra rows may be added to the reel set, giving you at most nine rows and five reels, for a total of 45 symbols on the screen.
A payline is merely a line across the reels that pays out when a winning combination is hit, and you have bet on it. Every payline covers one position for every reel. All combinations of winning symbols have to be on consecutive reels. Most of the time, all winning combinations have to start at the leftmost reel, though some slots have paylines beginning at the rightmost reel - NetEnt’s hugely popular Starburst is a great example.
Some slots require you to bet on every payline with every spin. In this case, the paylines are said to be ‘fixed’. Other slots let you choose how many paylines to bet. Note that you won’t receive payouts for any winning combinations on paylines that you decide not to wager.
For slots with paylines, you have to land matching symbols on consecutive reels, and these symbols have to be in the correct position on their respective reel.
Slots that use the all-ways-win mechanic reward you with a payout simply for landing matching symbols on consecutive reels – irrespective of position.
Though all-ways-win slots are said not to have paylines, in effect, you can think of them as having every possible payline across the reels. The number of possible lines for these slots can be quite substantial - it’s determined by taking the number of symbols on each of the reels and multiplying those numbers together.
Microgaming’s Highlander, for example, uses the all-ways-win mechanic. It has three rows and five reels. There are three symbols on each of the five reels, so to determine the number of ways to win, you use the following calculation: 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 243. Another Microgaming slot that uses this mechanic is the tattoo-themed Hot Ink. This one has four rows and five reels, so the number of ways to in is 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 x 4 = 1,024. Slots that use the all-ways-win mechanic can be slightly more costly per spin, though they can be worth the extra cost as they can produce winning combinations more often.
Most slots have a wild symbol to help you form winning combinations. This symbol can substitute for any of a slot’s standard symbols, i.e. any of the regular symbols that don’t trigger special features or bonus rounds. Let’s say you’re betting on a payline that runs across the slot’s central row. You land two matching symbols on reels 1 and 2, and a wild on the third reel. To form a win, you need at least three matching symbols on an active payline. You’ve only matched two, but the wild, which is on the same payline, will effectively act as a third matching symbol and your combination of two matching symbols and a wild will count as a winning combination.
Standard symbols need to be on an active payline to count as part of a winning combination. Scatter symbols, on the other hand, don’t. They can appear in any position on any of the reels. The only requirement to form a winning combination with scatters is that you have a minimum number of them (usually three). So long as you have the required number anywhere on the reels, you’ll score a win and paid accordingly. It’s very common for scatters to trigger bonus features such as free spins round. Again, this is usually done by landing at least three on the reels. Often the more scatters there are in the triggering spin, the more free spins or turns of the bonus round you’ll receive.
Each symbol usually takes up a single position on the reels. A fairly common feature in video slots is expanding symbols - as their name suggests, these are symbols that grow in size. Some may only grow vertically, taking up several positions on the same reel or even covering the entire reel. Others may grow both vertically and horizontally, taking up numerous positions on more than one reel. The purpose of expanding symbols is to give players a higher chance of forming a winning combination with the particular symbol expanded. Some slots even have expanding wild symbols, which give you even more chances of landing a win since they function as regular wilds and can substitute for any standard symbol.
A growing number of video slots have this feature, which becomes available whenever you land a win. After a win, a gamble feature may ask whether you want to keep your money or gamble it. If a player chooses to take the bet, another mini-game kicks in. Typically, guessing the outcome of a 50/50 guess would be required to double the amount won or the loose all that was gained. Make a correct guess, and your money will be doubled; make an incorrect guess, and you lose all your money. Some gamble features let you gamble just the once, whereas others give you the chance to gamble a set number of times. After any successful guess, you can choose to keep your winnings or gamble again.
Nudges were once a staple of classic fruit machines. They were usually awarded randomly and would give you the chance to move one of the reels up or down a set number of positions. This feature gave players who had just missed out on landing a winning combination a second opportunity to form one. Nudges aren’t so widely available on the modern video slot any longer. Online slots that do have nudges typically work a bit differently to how they were played in their heyday. Most of the time, the nudge will happen automatically.
In many video slots, players have the chance to increase the size of a win by using multipliers. These work in two ways; they can either appear as bonus rounds or appear as symbols on the reels. Sometimes, special symbols such as scatters and wilds can double-up as multipliers. It’s usually the case that a multiplier symbol only increases your win if it forms part of a winning combination.
You may even come across slots where for a bonus round you get to choose the value of the multiplier. For example, a free spins round might present you with several different options, each offering a different number of free spins and a different multiplier.
Most video slots have a bonus round, which is a sort of side game that gives you chances of winning prizes. There are two main types of bonus round found in video slots: the free spins round and the side game. The free spins, as explained in more detail below, is merely some extra spins given for free. The side game is usually a separate game that doesn’t involve spinning reels. An excellent example is the pick-me game. For this, you have to pick from several options: some have prizes, some take you to the next round for bigger prizes, and others bring the feature to an end. Some video slots may have several different bonus rounds.
Simply put, these are spins that you get to use for free. Though you’re not paying for them, they still work in the same way as regular spins, in that you can trigger bonus features and land wins. Many slots offer free spins as part of a bonus feature - often, if you land a minimum of three scatters, for example, you’ll be rewarded with some free spins. Many casinos also offer free spins packages as part of the welcome offer for new players. When awarded as part of a welcome offer or regular promotion, free spins are usually limited to a particular slot or a selection of individual slots.
The aim of respins is purely to help players land a winning combination. This feature involves one or more of the reels being respun in the hope of having more matching symbols. The way they work varies from slot to slot. Some have it as a randomly triggered feature; others have it as part of a bonus feature. In some slots, respins only give you a chance of landing a win; in others, a reel can be respun again and again until the player hits a winner. Respins aren’t the same as free spins, which involve the full reel set. With respins, some of the reels remain static while others are respun. Respins don’t cost you anything, though in some slots you may be able to purchase them to give you a better chance of winning.
A lot of slots have a fixed jackpot that’s always a set amount. Some jackpots, however, aren’t fixed. They have no upper limit and can grow indefinitely. Every time someone places a real-money wager on that slot, a portion of that wager is added to the progressive jackpot prize pool. The more money wagered on the slot, the higher the cash prize gets. Some slots have their own progressive jackpot, while others share a pot with other games - Playtech’s Age of the Gods, for example, has around half a dozen games linked up to the same jackpot. Generally speaking, the more people there are playing a progressive jackpot, the higher its cash prize will be and the lower the chances of winning. Many of the biggest land-based/online casino payouts in history have come from progressive jackpots.
The features listed above are some of the most common you’ll come across when playing video slots. It may seem like there’s a lot to earn, but the beauty is that, despite having many different aspects and features, they’re generally designed to be simple to understand. No matter how many different features a slot has, you should still find it easy enough to get to grips on what is happening during gameplay.
The vast majority offer free play, also known as free demo versions. This lets you play an infinite number of times without having to spend a single penny. It’s a great way to get used to the slot and how it works in a risk-free way which is highly advisable. Of course, you can’t win actual money in free play (or demo mode), but you can gain a much better understanding of how the slot works and learn to avoid making costly mistakes when playing real money slot games.