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3 vs 5 Reel Slots - What's the Difference?

If you’ve never played online slot games before, there is a whole new world of entertainment that you’re about to discover! If you have, you might’ve noticed that these games come in different formats, with regards to the number of reels.

Historically, the most common format was the 3-reel slot machine, which is how it all started, with famous hand-cranked lever machines like the Liberty Bell. Changing technologies over the last century meant that the format was no longer restricted by physical mechanics though, so when video slots became more popular, 5-reel games started to become the norm.

Find out more about these different formats, and what they mean for gameplay below.


What are 3-reel slots?

As the name suggests, 3-reel slots are made up of 3 reels, in a 3x3-grid format. This is traditionally the most simple game structure and is based on the historic slot machines of yore, where there is usually only one payline running across the middle of the reels.

Thanks to online technology, 3-reel games can now be a lot more complex than the original machines that people might have played at the turn of the previous century, but overall, these slots are designed to have a more “old-school” feel.


What are 5-reel slots?

Five-reel slots are some of the most common slot games that you will find online today. Usually, these will consist of a 5x3-grid format, although there are exceptions to this, depending on the game title you’ve chosen to play.

Although the 3-reel slots we have discussed above have been known to include more diverse features on occasion, in general, 5-reel slot games offer a lot more complexity when it comes to gameplay. You’ll see more elaborate bonus features, as well as a greater variety of symbols on the reels.

This, of course, only covers the basics. When you start to play games like Megaways slots, you’ll realise that the number of reels is only part of the picture. This is because these types of slots, many of which also have 5 reels, can add a whole lot more complexity to gameplay than you could imagine (and which we’ll expand on in this post).


Similarities between 3- and 5-reel slots

Now that we’ve outlined the basics of each type of slot, we’ll go into what these two formats have in common. First of all, both types have paylines, which are the relative positions on the reels where you can land wins (i.e. if a winning combination of symbols falls on a payline, you’ll win a prize!). Three-reel slot games typically only have one main payline, but there are exceptions to this. Five-reel slots, on the other hand, can have many different paylines.

This means that essentially, both types use the same basic mechanics, but in 5-reel slot games there is much greater detail. Other similarities include the fact that all games, regardless of the number of reels, will always have a theme of some kind, which makes each title appeal to different tastes and preferences.

You might find that some developers that focus on 3-reel games might offer only slight variations on their themes, with different colours and symbols, but that 5-reel games are often a whole world of characters and graphics in their own right. Of course, once again, it all depends on the game!


Differences between 3- and 5-reel slots

As we’ve touched on above, one of the main differences between 3- and 5-reel slots is that 5-reel slots are generally much more complex when it comes to gameplay. For example, in many 5-reel games, you can trigger different bonus features by landing certain symbols on the reels, which can take you to a completely different screen within the game, whereas 3-reel slots usually won’t offer the same functionality.

If we take a look at Megaways games, for example, you’ll notice that not only are there usually 5 reels but there is also the chance to expand the number of these reels depending on the game and the bonus features available. This turns the “set number of reels” format on its head and is made more intricate and interesting by the fact that the number of paylines (and ways to win) also differs on each spin.

This can all be quite a lot to get your head around, but we promise that once you start playing, if you haven’t already, everything will start to make a lot more sense. This leads us to our next point.


Which casino games should I play?

With such a huge variety of titles to play online, it can be difficult to know where to start. But now that you have a bit more insight into the different kinds of games available, you can pick and choose with a bit more clarity.

Although the reel structure might influence the mechanics of the game, and 3-reel games might appeal to the traditionalist in some of us, we’d recommend choosing games based on what theme appeals to you, no matter how many reels there are, as each format comes with its own relative merits.

You can also look at the most popular slot games on the market at the moment, read a few game reviews and enjoy the titles that so many other people are playing too!


Spin any number of reels with the best online slots at Mecca Games

Try some of the most popular slots at Mecca Games, which include favourites like Gonzo’s Quest Megaways, Cleopatra II and Shaman’s Dream 2. If you’d like to switch things up completely and play a game that forgoes the reels completely, why not try some of our exciting Slingo games, such as Book of Slingo and Slingo Starburst? Slingo brings the best of slots and bingo together and promises a whole lot of fun.

No matter what type of games you choose to play, if you’re looking for some “choice” entertainment at a casino online, you’ll find all this and more at Mecca Games!

/ 29 September 2021