Cascading Reels, Rolling Reels, Avalanche – Is There a Difference?

If you’ve been playing online slots for long, you may have come across the following terms:

  • Avalanche
  • Cascading reels
  • Rolling reels
  • Tumbling reels

These terms appear to indicate different types of features at first glance. But as you’ll find out below, they actually describe the same feature in a slot.

This situation presents lots of confusion for players who move between a rolling and tumbling reels slot, for example. I’ll discuss this matter below along with why developers use multiple terms to describe the same thing.

What Do These Terms Signify?

Traditional real money online slots give you one chance to form wins in each round. You spin the reels and hope to line up matching symbols in paylines to win.

However, games with avalanche, cascading reels, etc. work differently. They give you more opportunities to win in each round as payouts continue coming.

Here’s how avalanche/cascading/rolling/tumbling reels work:

  • You spin the reels and score a payout(s).
  • Symbols from this win(s) vanish/explode and leave blank positions.
  • New symbols fall to help fill out the grid.
  • The game re-evaluates the grid for new wins.
  • This process continues until no more payouts can form.

Every term mentioned so far describes the same mechanism. Symbols from winning combinations explode and give way to fresh symbols.

This feature is quite popular because it can lead to many wins in the same round. The best part is that you don’t need to risk any more money to enjoy these extra winning opportunities.

Instead, you can keep racking up more payouts with a single bet. The winning only stops when no additional wins happen.

Avalanche Slots Came First

Back to the original matter, why do developers use various terms to describe one feature? The answer lies in the history of this slots mechanism.

NetEnt released a revolutionary game called Gonzo’s Quest in 2010. Besides its stellar graphics and game play, Gonzo’s Quest included something that had never been seen before.

Symbols that help form payouts simply explode and give way to icons falling from above. Before this point, slots only gave you one chance at winning before a new round started. NetEnt dubbed their inventive mechanism “avalanche.” The latter term perfectly describes what happens with this feature.

When winning symbols disappear, they leave holes in the grid. More icons pile onto the reels to help fill the holes. This sequence may not be so impressive for a single payout. However, it becomes quite a spectacle when you net multiple prizes in the same round. The end result looks something like an avalanche of new symbols falling onto the reels.

Other Terms for Avalanche

Many developers witnessed the success of NetEnt’s avalanche mechanism. However, they didn’t want to roll out similar games and also call their feature “avalanche.”

Therefore, they introduced new terms to describe the same event. You can see the various terms that are used to describe this mechanism below.

  • Collapsing Reels – Playtech introduced this term to describe their games that also explode winning symbols and allow for more wins.
  • Rolling Reels – Microgaming’s Jungle Jim: El Dorado presents “rolling reels.” Now, Microgaming describes all associated slots in the same manner.
  • Swooping Reels – Quickspin deems their avalanche-like slots to have swooping reels.
  • Tumbling Reels – IGT dubs the term “tumbling reels” with their associated slots.
  • Cascading Reels – I’m not sure which developer came up with this phrase first. In any case, cascading reels is one of the most popular ways to describe an avalanche.

Each developer may add certain modifiers to their version of cascading reels. For example, Microgaming likes to attach win multipliers to tumbling reels.

Again, though, these developers are just using a different phrase to describe the same mechanism. You won’t experience much or any difference when moving from swooping to tumbling reels, for example.

Why Do Developers Use Cascading Reels?

Tumbling reels have become very common in the gaming world. Below, you can see why countless games now offer this feature.

Avalanche Creates More Action

In decades past, slots players were fine with basic games that included three reels, fruits, and simple graphics. They merely wanted to chase big payouts and experience the thrill of gambling.

However, times have changed greatly in the gaming industry. Gamblers are no longer happy with just spinning the reels and waiting for payouts to line up.

They want more action and entertainment, including everything from detailed animations to in-depth features. Cascading reels have become very appealing to this action-craving crowd.

Gonzo's Quest

They cause winning symbols to explode and more icons to land on the screen. This process produces an interesting spectacle while also creating more wins.

Opportunities to Win Big

Rolling reels give you the chance to earn many payouts in a single round. These payouts can really add up when you get hot.

Some developers even add win multipliers to the equation. Your multiplier increases as you keep earning more wins.

The multiplier typically resets after the round. However, bonuses (e.g. free spins) sometimes allow you to carry over the same multiplier from round to round, thus, giving you a chance at huge prizes.

Players Love Cascading Reels

Developers wouldn’t keep putting tumbling reels in their games if this feature didn’t work. They keep inserting this mechanism because players love it.

As covered earlier, cascading reels create additional action. You’re more likely to be entertained upon seeing exploding symbols and chain reactions afterward.

Basic slots, which only give you one chance to win, don’t offer this same appeal. They only give you one shot to win per spin.

Examples of Popular Avalanche Slots

I’ve covered cascading reels and what they do. Now, I’d like to discuss some of the more popular avalanche games in gaming history.

Gonzo’s Quest

This slot revolves around a Spanish conquistador trekking through a South American jungle. The 3D graphics in this 2010 release were far ahead of their time.

Gonzo's Quest

With a five-reel setup, Gonzo’s Quest appears to have simple gameplay at first. But as mentioned before, it introduced gamblers to the avalanche feature.

As an added bonus, you also get to see Gonzo celebrating your wins off to the side. Gonzo’s Quest remains one of the biggest online classics to this day.

Bonanza Megaways

Bonanza is one of the biggest hits from Big Time Gaming. It features a Megaways format that sees each reel hold a varying amount of symbols.

Bonanza Megaways

When each reel holds the maximum amount of symbols, the game features 117,649 ways to win. It also adds cascading reels to the mix.

Therefore, you get a nice combination of Megaways and avalanche payouts. You can win up to 12,000x your stake through Bonanza as a result.

Jungle Jim El Dorado

This five-reel, 25-line game centers on an explorer named Jungle Jim. Like Gonzo’s Quest, it takes place in a remote South American jungle.

Jungle Jim El Dorado

Jungle Jim El Dorado actually has other similarities to Gonzo’s Quest. Jim stands off to the side and cheers for your wins just like Gonzo.

This slot isn’t overly original when compared to other avalanche games. However, its graphics and fun theme make it worth trying.

Will Cascading Reels Ever Lose Popularity?

The trend in slots involves packing lots of features into games. Again, players want action, and developers need to supply this demand for action.

Rolling reels are an important part of this trend. A developer can seamlessly include avalanche along with other features.

Bonanza is a perfect example of this point.

Big Time Gaming combines Megaways, free spins, and cascading reels into one game.

Simply put, I don’t see tumbling reels fading away any time soon. I wouldn’t be surprised if over 80% of games offer this feature at some point.

Cascading reels have become a common mechanism in gaming. They may very well continue being a norm for decades to come.


You might be confused when seeing cascading, collapsing, swooping, and tumbling reels all used regarding slots. But these words describe the same type of feature.

Developers simply switch up the terms to avoid copying each other. If you’ve played one avalanche or cascading reels game, then you’ll feel comfortable playing any of them.

These slots can include other features too, including free spins, respins, multipliers, and Megaways. That said, you might consider trying different types of avalanche, collapsing reels, or swooping reels slots for the various features alone.