Tomy’s Pocketeers were a thing of genius. I believe the bulk of them were produced between 1975 and 1978 although several more were made into the 80s too. They really were a great idea. Unlike many devices that bore the name ‘pocket’ (Pocket Simon I’m looking at you), these Pocketeers could genuinely fit into your jeans. Perfect for taking on road trips or to the dentist’s waiting room.

They were mechanical, normally spring-based, puzzle games that often had you steering ball bearings around mazes or flipping balls onto ledges. Skill, physics and gravity were all involved. Now remember that this was all long before home video gaming became properly mainstream. And no-one had even dreamt of having handheld video game devices like the Game Boy, Game Gear or Atari Lynx. Having a self-contained, pocket size mechanical game was absolutely perfect for the time.

They were sold via Palitoy in the UK. There’s quite a fanbase for these games and lots of great videos on YouTube.

Tomy brought out 46 Pocketeers in total and the only two that I owned as a child were not standard ones, but rather different from the others. One was a Poker game, so not involving ball bearings at all, and the other was one of the three Smurf games, which stands out from the normal Pocketeers as they were fully branded as Smurfs.

As a 6 year old child, like I think I was when I first got the Pocket Poker Machine, you don’t expect to know the rules of Poker or other card games associated with gambling. Sure, things were less strict in the 70s and 80s but 6 years old would still be early. Nowadays gambling, offline and online, is readily available, and you can find the latest UK slots sites, and more, online, but it’s much more secure of course. But for me I learnt how to play poker from this Pocketeer. It really was an ingenius game. So, so simple. I would say the design is by far the most simple of all the Pocketeers available, but despite this it’s still a surprisingly cool game (or at least it was for me as a 6 year old!). You basically flick the switch underneath each of the five ‘cards’ and this makes it spin round until it stops on a card number/face. In the event of the reel stopping halfway between two cards you can then also push the switch up to lock it in place on one card. You can also use this method to more randomly stop the reel during mid-spin to make it even more ‘exciting’.

I learnt all the terminologies for Full House, Flush, Straight Flush and everything else at a very young age thanks to Tomy! I guess if your friends also had one of these then you could have played an actual game of poker, if you didn’t happen to have a pack of cards on you! But I used to often play on my own and just flick the reels and try to guess which card it would land on. Even that was fun!

The other Pocketeer I owned as a kid was one of three Smurf-branded ones. Smurfs were huge in the late 70s and early 80s. I loved everything Smurf-related, so obviously I was all over this Pocketeer when I got it. I think I inherited the Poker one above but I’m pretty sure I got this Smurf one all to myself.

There were three Smurf Pocketeers, called SmurfBall, Smurf Look Alike and Smurf Hat Trick. The Smurf Look Alike looks very simple but also looks like it could be great fun! But it was the SmurfBall one that I had.

First of all, the artwork for this one was great. Four pretty big Smurf dudes swinging golf clubs, and placed in a way that your little plastic clubs looked like they were being swung by the Smurfs. It plays almost a bit like a basic pinball game, with the balls being released near the bottom and then you have to flick the switch to swing the clubs and get the ball onto higher and higher platforms. Even if you ‘cheat’ and tilt the game flat to try to help get the balls on the platforms it’s still pretty hard. This game had proper longevity, as you could challenge yourself to get all the balls in, not missing any platforms, doing it in a faster time etc. This game, however, was much harder to play in the car. Any slight bump in the road and your ball would end up in the rough!

If you want to learn more about all of the Pocketeers that were available then check out this great website about Pocketeers.