Complete Breakdown of Slot Symbols

Software suppliers are launching new slots with improved features every month, bringing greater levels of entertainment to reel spinners from around the world. Slots are constantly evolving but most of them rely, more or less, on the same types of symbols.

This makes it possible for players to easily learn and familiarize themselves with new releases as long as they understand how the different types of slot symbols work. Symbols are generally classified into two major groups.

Standard symbols yield either high-value or low-value payouts for matches on active paylines. Special symbols, like the wilds and the scatters, increase the winning odds of players, helping them score more combinations or unlock lucrative bonus features.

This article meticulously describes all types of symbols you will find in slots, how they work, and why they are beneficial for the player.

Standard High-Value and Low-Value Slot Symbols

1Low-Value Symbols

These are the most basic symbols you will see in slots. Payouts are awarded when identical symbols align on a winning line. Most modern slots use playing-card symbols like A, K, Q, J, 10 and 9 for their low-value combinations. Sometimes the four card suits (spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts) are utilized instead.

In classic slots that play on three reels, low-value symbols are typically represented by different types of fruits like plums, lemons, oranges, cherries, melons, and grapes. Low-value combinations have a higher hit frequency because low-value symbols outnumber the high payers on the reels.

2High-value symbols

Slots also have symbols with much higher winning potential. In retro three-reel games, the top payers are represented by classic symbols such as the bar, the lucky seven, the diamond, and the bell. The high-value symbols in modern video slots vary from one game to another depending on its theme.

When you spin the reels of a slot with an Egyptian theme, for example, you would collect top payouts from symbols that contain pyramids, scarabs, scepters, snakes, deities, and ancient artifacts. Video slot developers commonly give the low-paying card symbols a bespoke touch so that they, too, compliment the theme of the respective game.

3Winning combinations

The only purpose of standard symbols is to award payouts when they form winning combinations on the paylines. In most games, you need at least three matching icons to collect a prize although some slots pay for as little as two matches on a win line.

The direction in which the identical symbols align is also important. Winning combinations usually must occur from left to right on the winning line. To give you an example, suppose scarab symbols appear on the third, fourth, and fifth reels. You will not earn anything from this combination if you have unlike symbols on the first and second reels.

Nevertheless, there are video slots like Starburst, The Invisible Man, and Good Girl, Bad Girl where you can win in both directions. While this does not give the player better odds at winning, it keeps them more invested in the game.

4Reels and Paylines

Regardless of their value, standard symbols behave differently in slots with the so-called “cascading” reels. The way this feature works resembles retro games like Tetris. When a winning combination occurs on a payline, the matching symbols explode and disappear from the reels. The new symbols that fall in place could potentially create another winning combination. Such is the case in Betsoft’s Sugar Pop and Invaders from Planet Moolah by WMS.

The “collapsing” reels work similarly. If identical symbols create a match on a payline, they disappear and the icons above them move into position. This feature is known as “Free Fall” in NetEnt slots.

Some games have dynamic multipliers that incrementally boost your profits with each subsequent winning combination. In others, a string of consecutive wins unlocks bonus events like free spins.

There are also slots that lack paylines altogether. The standard-paying symbols behave like scatters in such games, which is to say they must appear on adjacent reels to yield a payout. The patterns they form and their exact positions on the reels are irrelevant in this case.

Wild Symbols – Types and Purpose

Wilds are the best friends of slot players because they can replace all standard symbols and create more winning combinations. The only icons they cannot substitute are the scatters and the bonus symbols. You will not necessarily find wilds in all games but if you play modern slots, there is a good chance you will come across these special symbols.

Let's use Divine Fortune by NetEnt to demonstrate how wilds function. This mythology-themed game uses Pegasus for substitution. Suppose you have two Q icons on the first and third reels on payline 1.

If Pegasus hits the second reel on line 1, the game will award a payout that corresponds to a combination of Three of a Kind. This is a shifting wild which moves down one position on the reels after wins (if any) are awarded for a given spin, potentially creating more winning combinations.

Depending on the slot, wilds may appear both in the main game and during special features like free spins. Some wilds are used solely for substitution while others award higher payouts for combinations of three or more symbols. Wilds can also trigger bonus events in certain slots although scatters and bonus symbols are normally used for this purpose.

As software developers are constantly looking for ways to improve slots, there are many different types of wild symbols players can benefit from. Below is a rundown of the most common types you will come across.

Walking wilds
Expanding wilds
Stacked wilds
Sticky wilds
Random wilds
Replicating wilds

Walking wilds

Walking wilds work on the same principle as the substitution symbols in NetEnt’s Divine Fortune we wrote about earlier. When they land on the reels, they move one position on each subsequent spin.

Depending on the slot you are playing, the wild might walk to the left, to the right, upward, and downward until it eventually disappears from the screen. The reels respin at no cost each time the wild moves by one position. The feature can be found mainly in NetEnt slots like The Invisible Man, Divine Fortune, and Jack and the Beanstalk.


Expanding wilds

Expanding wilds are extremely powerful because they stretch to cover the entire reel they land on. This can potentially create multiple winning combinations, especially when you play advanced slots with five reels and numerous paylines. The wilds usually expand only when included on a winning line.

Sometimes a single wild symbol might take over several reels, creating insane winning combos in the process. Players usually get a free respin after an expanding wild hits the reels. Some of the slots with such icons we recommend you to check are NetEnt’s Starburst and Hall of the Gods, and 1429 Uncharted Seas by Thunderkick.


Stacked wilds

Stacked wilds are similar to expanding wilds because they also cover reels in full. The difference here is that the wilds stack on top of each other instead of merging into one large symbol.

In some slots, wilds can stack on any reel while in others the stacking occurs on certain reels only. These specifics are listed in the slot’s paytable, which we suggest you check before you play. Some of the coolest titles to feature stacked wilds include Kiss by WMS and IGT’s Wolf Run and Western Belles.


Sticky wilds

Sticky wilds, also known as “frozen” or “locked” wilds are special symbols that remain locked in position when they hit a reel. The symbol sticks on the reel for the next respin orthe entire duration of bonus events like free spins. Some sticky wilds are also expanding wilds and can occupy entire reels.

In NetEnt’s Dead or Alive 2, the sticky wilds have a 2x multiplier on wins generated during free spins. The symbols can also retrigger additional bonus spins if they appear for the duration of the feature.

Other slots with sticky wilds we recommend you to try are Betsoft’s Mamma Mia, NetEnt’s Lucky Angler and Finn and the Swirly Spin, and Tower Quest by Play’n GO.


Random wilds

Random wilds occur when substitution symbols are randomly added onto the reels. This usually happens for the duration of bonus events like free spins. The symbols work differently depending on what slot you are playing.

Random wilds may have multipliers that further boost the wins they help create. In some games, one or more reel grids turn into wilds to award additional prizes. In others, entire reels can become wild during a free round.

Either way, random wilds can occur on any spin. This adds an element of surprise and makes the gameplay more engaging. It should be noted that these symbols do not necessarily create winning combinations when they appear. Sometimes it can be rather frustrating to see them appear without completing a combo that pays.

You will find this feature in slots like Microgaming’s Immortal Romance, Moon Princess by Play’n GO, and Vikings Go Wild by Yggdrasil.


Replicating wilds

Replicating wilds, also known as transferring wilds, are substitution symbols that duplicate themselves to appear in several positions on the reels. One example is the slot Grim Muerto by Play’n GO where one reel is randomly selected at the start of a spin. If a wild symbol hits the highlighted reel, it duplicates to cover all of its grids.

These wilds behave differently depending on which software studio has produced the slot. They can appear during bonus features, within the base game or during both. Such symbols often are to be found in slots with high volatility where you win larger prizes less frequently.

Transferring wilds can be found in many games developed by WMS Gaming, including Fire Queen, Spartacus: Gladiator of Rome, and Bruce Lee Dragon’s Tale. These slots are unique because they play on multiple sets of reels.

Scatter Symbols and How They Benefit the Slot Player

1Scattered Payouts

The scatter symbols we mentioned previously are valuable to slot players for two main reasons. First, these are special icons which boast the advantage of not having to align on a winning line to pay.

You score a win as long as enough scatters appear in any position on the reels. When they do pay, scatters award some of the highest prizes in the paytable. Scattered wins are normally multiplied by the player’s total bet.

2Bonus events

However, the scatters in some slots do not necessarily deliver standard payouts. Their function in such games is to trigger bonus events like free spins, respins, and side games where you can win additional cash prizes.

You need a certain number of scatters to appear on the same spin to trigger the bonus event. Some game developers make it tougher for the player by designing scatters that must land onto specific reels to unlock the special features.

Most commonly you need a minimum of three scatters to trigger a bonus feature although landing four or more of these symbols improves your rewards in certain games.

3Example

One example is Hall of Gods by NetEnt where you get 10 free spins with 3 scatters, 15 free spins with 4 scatters, and the maximum of 20 free spins for 5 scatters. These special symbols usually retrigger additional free spins when enough of them occur during the feature. Developers often attach multipliers to the scatters for even larger prizes.

Bonus Symbols and Paytables in Slots

Bonus Symbols in Slots

Get to Know the Paytable and Winning Symbols before You Play

Bonus symbols are among the most anticipated icons in video slots. Similarly to scatters, bonus symbols activate bonus events like free spins or side games with guaranteed cash prizes. They are unavailable in retro slots that play on three reels but are rather common in modern games.

We take a closer look at the types of bonus games in the next article from our slot guide. For the time being, it suffices to say these extra features can be extremely lucrative and entertaining, taking your slot gameplay to a whole new level. Designed in line with the slot’s theme, bonus games add tons of excitement to one’s betting session.

Bonus symbols are different from scatters in that they normally do not award regular payouts. Their sole purpose is to trigger the slots’ bonus features. Bonus symbols cannot be substituted by wilds as standard icons can. With some slots, the bonus symbols must appear simultaneously on specific reels to work their magic.

You usually need a minimum of three such symbols to unlock bonus features. To use NetEnt’s Fairytale Legends: Hansel & Gretel as an example, three icons with treasure chests must appear on the first, third, and fifth reel to trigger one out of three bonus features.

In other games like Play’n GO’s Rich Wilde and the Pearls of India, the player collects bonus symbols during regular spins and needs at least 25 icons to trigger the side game. In Tower Quest by the same supplier, three bonus symbols with a wizard must land in any reel position to activate the side game.

The long and short of it is bonus symbols are strictly game-specific and the way they behave depends on who has designed the respective slot. This leads us to the next section where we discuss the importance of paytables.

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