In the world of online slots, and offline video slots for that matter, slots generally fall into one of two categories: 3 reel and 5 reel games. Within those categories, however, titles can vary enormously.
For example, a 5 reel game with 30 paylines and a progressive jackpot will play very differently to one with Reel Power's 243 ways to win and a low standard jackpot. Even so, it's worth understanding some of the key differences that the number of reels can make.
3 reel games have a lot in common with British fruit machines, except most don't allow players to nudge or hold the reels like such games do. They're most popular with an older audience who remember these simple slots from trips to arcades or casinos in their youth, and often have a nostalgic theme.
It's rare for 3 reel games to have lots of fancy animations or flashy mini-games, so it could be said that they're suited to slots purists who want a straightforward game that's all about chasing the jackpot.
Some popular 3 reel games include Break Da Bank (Microgaming), Mega Joker (NetEnt) and Triple Diamond (IGT). With vintage graphics that are on the gaudy side, these are great examples of how most titles with 3 reels look and play.
A big advantage of 3 reel games is that they may seem slightly more predictable than more complicated games. Without a lot of bonus features to complicate matters, it feels easier to get a rough idea of when a big payout is coming. In fact, this is a bit of a fallacy – it's impossible to predict when a slot is due to pay out, but that doesn't stop players trying anyway.
5 reel games are the most common type of slot online. Almost all popular titles by major software providers like NetEnt, Microgaming, Playtech and Aristocrat feature 5 reel reels and 3 rows, although there are a few exceptions that we'll get to below.
In land-based casinos, the vast majority of video slots also have 5 reels so this format will be very familiar to anyone who's used to gambling offline.
Most 3 reel games have about 9 paylines, because it's difficult to offer any more than this for a 3x3 format. 5 reel titles can have anything between 15 and 243+ different paylines or ways to win, but most fall somewhere between the 25 and 50 mark.
If you're the sort of player who likes to enjoy the thrill of winning regularly, even if those wins are on the low side, then you're going to want to stick with a game with lots of paylines that gives you as many chances to win as possible.
The more reels a game has, the more paylines it's possible to offer. Playing with the maximum number of paylines is always a good thing, because it can be extremely frustrating if you land what would have been a big win but you didn't bet across that payline.
If the maximum you're willing to bet is too small to cover every payline on a 5 reel slot for each spin, you might want to look at a 3 reel game with a smaller number of paylines.
There's more to think about here than just the number of reels. Does a game offer any bonus features or mini-games? Is the jackpot progressive or standard? Will the theme give you a kick in some way or is it simply no fun to play? These are all questions you'll want to ask yourself before you commit too much time to a game.
For example, if you love chasing big jackpots and mini-games then you might end up leaning towards 5 reel games even if prefer the gameplay of 3 reel slots. Likewise, you might enjoy bonus features and flash graphics but may ultimately end up going with a 3 reel slot if it allows to play the max bet per line without breaking the bank.
The good thing about playing slots on the web is that you never need to make a decision to stick solely with a particular game, or even 3 reel/5 reel slots, and can jump between titles to your heart's content.
Though, with that said, it's always sensible to spend a bit of time on one slot to see if you can make it to the bonus round rather than having to start all over again with a new game.
Whether 3 reels, 5 reels or even more than that is your preference, we've got plenty of recommended sites where you can enjoy all sorts of different games. Just click around the site a little to find out more.