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Unread 10-03-2018, 09:57 AM
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Blockading Rule Reform

Figured reviewing the blockading rule could be an interesting topic given the recent discussion relating to Chezy Champs.

I think it's important to look at a few different things when looking at this rule.
  • What is the intent of the rule?
  • Should that kind of play be prevented? Should that be adjusted?
  • How should teams be sufficiently deterred from doing the illegal action?
  • How clear and precise can the language be to determine if a team is breaking the rules?
Here is the most recent version of the rule from the 2018 manual.
Code:
G12. Don’t collude with your partners to shut down major parts of game play. Two or more
ROBOTS may not isolate or close off any major component of MATCH play, e.g. blocking the
EXCHANGE, blocking both PORTALS simultaneously, shutting down all access to POWER
CUBES, quarantining all opponents to a small area of the FIELD, etc.
Violation: YELLOW CARD for the ALLIANCE.
2017:
Code:
Don’t collude with your partners to shut down major parts of game play. Two or more
ROBOTS may not isolate or close off any major facet of MATCH play, e.g. block all three
opponent LIFTS, shut down all access to GAME PIECES, quarantine all opponents to a small
area of the FIELD, etc.
Violation: YELLOW CARD for the ALLIANCE.
2016 version of the rule:
Code:
G25 A ROBOT may not attempt to stop or impede the flow of the MATCH in any of the following ways:
A. intentionally tipping over
B. coordinating a blockade of the FIELD with ALLIANCE members
C. blocking GOAL(S) while in contact with its own BATTER using anything outside its
FRAME PERIMETER except its BUMPERS
D. blocking more than one of the opponent’s HUMAN PLAYER STATION openings while not
contacting the carpet in the opponent’s SECRET PASSAGE
E. isolating BOULDERS in the opponent’s SECRET PASSAGE from opponents while not
contacting the carpet in the opponent’s SECRET PASSAGE
Violation: YELLOW CARD for the ALLIANCE
2014-2012 version of the rule:
Code:
G25
ROBOTS on the same ALLIANCE may not blockade the FIELD in an attempt to stop the flow of the MATCH. This rule
has no effect on individual ROBOT-ROBOT interaction.
Violation: TECHNICAL FOUL
2011 (first time this rule appeared):
Code:
ALLIANCE ROBOTS may not work together to blockade the FIELD in an attempt to stop the
flow of the MATCH. This rule has no effect on individual ROBOT-to-ROBOT defense.
Violation: PENALTY plus RED CARD
Intent of the rule
If we look at the early rules we see the classic "stop the flow of the MATCH" wording. The wording is super vague, so looking at each extremes, at worst we could interpret it as two robots playing defense at the same time breaks this rule. I think when reflecting on what the intent of this rule and what it should be, two robots playing defense at the same time doesn't make sense to penalize teams for. The other end of the spectrum is kind of hard to define since we don't know what "flow of the match" really is, so we will leave that for now.

2014-2012 has the exact same wording, so we won't worry about that for now.

2015 due to the split field has no blockading rule.

2016, we see the most complex rule definition, where it tries to describe what "flow of the match" actually means. Most of it is game specific, but what it generally seems to boil down to me, is playing defense in a way that can completely prevent the opponent team from scoring boulders. All of the methods aside from A and B to me could be extrapolated to fully prevent an alliance from scoring boulders, be it cutting off the opponents supply, or cutting off the places they could score. B is super vague, and hard to determine what is, and is basically the remnant of the 2011-2014 rules. I'm not sure of a situation where A is helpful to strategy, as a robot is still a robot if it's tipped over, and is still susceptible to penalties.

2017 & 2018 are the most clear to me, as they explicitly give intent in the rules, of which, all examples are ones of completely shutting down a facet of game play to an alliance. (block all three opponent LIFTS, shut down all access to GAME PIECES, quarantine all opponents to a small area of the FIELD, blocking the EXCHANGE, blocking both PORTALS simultaneously).

To me after reviewing the intent of these rules, it's pretty clear that the intent of these rules is to prevent an entire alliance from scoring points from one or more aspects of the game. Not a single robot from being able to score in the game.

Is the Intent Valid?
I don't think anyone can argue that making it impossible to score for an alliance shouldn't be penalized, so yes this type of play should be regulated.

Should the intent be adjusted?
Here is where more of an argument can be made, and where there seems to be a lot of confusion. Some will argue that preventing one robot from scoring at all is also the intent of the rules/should be the intent of the rules.

There are a several problems that I find with this interpretation. Consider these two scenarios in the 2018 season. Presume that you can be called for blockading one robot and preventing them from scoring on an aspect of the game. The blue robot pictured in the picture is trying to score on the scale, and the two red robots are doing nothing but defending that blue robot in the choke point.



Code:
Defended driver skill level: 1/10
Defenders driver skill level: 5/10

Defenders easily block the defended driver and prevent them from scoring. 
Blockading is called against the defenders.
Code:
Defended driver skill level: 10/10
Defenders driver skill level: 5/10

Defenders struggle to block the defended robot, there is a 5 second 
slowdown on the defended robot but they are able to make it through. 
Blockade is not called here, as the robot could make it through.
In both cases, the actions of the red robots were identical, the only difference is that the blue robot was able to make it through due to driver skill alone. I don't think it's a good idea to make rules that encourage weak driving from the defender, and discourage good defense from defenders.

Another issue that I have with this interpretation is that in some cases, a one on one defense player can drastically or in some cases completely prevent a robot from scoring, which is essentially the exact same issue here, except instead of a 1v1, it's a 2v1, so it's "unfair", but i'm not so sure that this is true. Much like in sports it's a strategic decision. By putting two robots on defense, (even if both aren't defending the entire time) you are betting that your one robot left scoring (plus some extra help from whoever isn't scoring at that one time) can outscore the two robots that you left undefended, essentially making it a 1v2 in the scoring department. In sports there are rules that prevent game breaking things from happening, but if you wanted all of your players to just defend one person in a game, that's a real gamble. blocking one robot in a zone has counter play, you can do things to still fight in the game.

This diversity in potential play style should be respected, and even encouraged to add depth to FRC games, not penalized no matter how frustrating it may be to be blocked out by two defenders. It is however important to distinguish between plays that have counter play when defending, and ones that do not. (blocking all the peg lifts in 2017, blocking the exchange to prevent powerups, etc) These have no counter-play, and are not fun to play against.

How should teams be sufficiently deterred from doing the illegal action?
I think it's easy to move this to a red card + some point value with some increased clarity in the rules. Red card to prevent usage for one time matches in elims as a long shot, and some point value to discourage in quals to some degree. (exactly like the 2011 rules, just with a better description of the illegal behavior)

How clear and precise can the language be to determine if a team is breaking the rules?
What do you think? How should the rule be worded? What should the intent of the rule be and how should the rule be written to reflect that intent?

Here is a draft of what I would like to see for 2019.

Code:
Don’t collude with your partners to shut down major parts of game play. Two or more
ROBOTS may not isolate or close off any major component of MATCH play from an ALLIANCE.
Violation: RED CARD for the offending ROBOT(S). TECHNICAL FOUL
Let me know what you think!
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Unread 10-03-2018, 10:51 AM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

I think that the head ref needs to be very strict about the rule a be willing to give out many red cards to team in quals and elims with a call going strait to a red card for a violation. sure it might be to many cards given out but a offence such as blockading. This is just my personal opinion and may not reflect what other members of my team think.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 12:14 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Is the Intent Valid?
I don't think anyone can argue that making it impossible to score for an alliance shouldn't be penalized, so yes this type of play should be regulated.

Should the intent be adjusted?
Here is where more of an argument can be made, and where there seems to be a lot of confusion. Some will argue that preventing one robot from scoring at all is also the intent of the rules/should be the intent of the rules
I'll make the argument. In every good team sport defense is as valid as offense. If we over react to this issue, we could end up defining a new rule that gives every robot the right to score and turns future matches into six individual games played on the same field. Put a time limit on "blockading" calls (whatever those are) the same way we put time limits on pins, and the problem takes care of itself.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 01:07 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Is blockading even a necessary rule to exist? Imagine you have your 3 robots near your exchange and the opposing alliance has robots in the two lanes on either side of the switch, blocking you.

Why is this a bad thing? Quite obviously, FIRST is okay with defense, otherwise the null zones would have been bigger and there would have been more protected zones on the field. So why is "blockading" a bad thing? If you have made the strategical mistake of putting all 3 robots in that area at the same time, and you also do not have a robot that can push through either of the opponent robots... why should the opponent be punished for taking advantage of the situation?
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Unread 10-03-2018, 01:25 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by nuclearnerd View Post
I'll make the argument. In every good team sport defense is as valid as offense. If we over react to this issue, we could end up defining a new rule that gives every robot the right to score and turns future matches into six individual games played on the same field. Put a time limit on "blockading" calls (whatever those are) the same way we put time limits on pins, and the problem takes care of itself.
I really like this idea. I think I would be fine with blockading as long as you couldn't do it for an extended period of time. I think calling it like a pin is pretty fair as the end result of blockading vs pinning is similar.

I understand the argument that blockading is strategic but pinning is also strategic. The reason both have limits and rules is to promote more offensive play which I believe has been a good thing the last couple of years. It's not necessarily about shutting down a robot/alliance but slowing them down to give your alliance an edge.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:00 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrennanB View Post
To me after reviewing the intent of these rules, it's pretty clear that the intent of these rules is to prevent an entire alliance from scoring points from one or more aspects of the game. Not a single robot from being able to score in the game.
So in a match where we'll say both alliances have robots of skill values 10,1,1, you believe that its acceptable that both alliances use their 2 low skill robots to prevent the high skill robots from scoring at all? Is this really what you want to see? Is this encouraging good engineering? How about if you're on the 10 team? Do you feel like your engineering efforts mattered if you can just be excluded from playing the game?

Preventing a single robot from being able to play the game is not right. Even if it takes 3 robots to do it. Just because you win does not mean that its a positive lesson for your students. Do not bring others down to lift yourself up.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:07 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnSchneider View Post
So in a match where we'll say both alliances have robots of skill values 10,1,1, you believe that its acceptable that both alliances use their 2 low skill robots to prevent the high skill robots from scoring at all?
If all 3 teams on the alliance agrees to the strat, and it fits within the rules, yes?

The part you quoted from Brennan is flawed anyways though. To me, the part of the rule he is referencing to is only giving an example of the violation, not the only way its broken.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnSchneider View Post
Two or more ROBOTS may not isolate or close off any major component of MATCH play, e.g.blocking the
EXCHANGE, blocking both PORTALS simultaneously, shutting down all access to POWER
CUBES, quarantining all opponents to a small area of the FIELD, etc
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:18 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnSchneider View Post
So in a match where we'll say both alliances have robots of skill values 10,1,1, you believe that its acceptable that both alliances use their 2 low skill robots to prevent the high skill robots from scoring at all? Is this really what you want to see?
Yes and yes.

Quote:
Is this encouraging good engineering? How about if you're on the 10 team?
I don't think engineering is in question here. People don't want to build level 1 robot skill robots. People want to be able to build 10 level robots. I've never personally been on a team with a level 10 robot, but maybe an 8 would be a reasonable assessment of my best robot (2018), and no, I wouldn't feel bad if two level 1 robots stopped us from scoring.

Quote:
Do you feel like your engineering efforts mattered if you can just be excluded from playing the game?
Nope, i'd just call it good defense/strategy, and work with our drivers on those scenarios.

Quote:
Preventing a single robot from being able to play the game is not right. Even if it takes 3 robots to do it. Just because you win does not mean that its a positive lesson for your students. Do not bring others down to lift yourself up.
Could you elaborate more on what makes it not right? Is lock down defense bad? Should defense be banned? Should the best robot always win regardless of driver ability or strategic skill? How does playing a different strategy that is common in every sport I can think of invalid in the context of FRC?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jtrv View Post
Is blockading even a necessary rule to exist? Imagine you have your 3 robots near your exchange and the opposing alliance has robots in the two lanes on either side of the switch, blocking you.
I think you want some degree of counter play to every strategy. It's the same reason FRC actively avoids creating choke hold strategies, and rules them out to the best of their abilities. I don't think blockading should be called unless there is almost no counter play. Much like pinning, when you are pinned there is no counter play, your robot is pinned, the other robot can push you. Nothing you can do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MikLast View Post
If all 3 teams on the alliance agrees to the strat, and it fits within the rules, yes?

The part you quoted from Brennan is flawed anyways though. To me, the part of the rule he is referencing to is only giving an example of the violation, not the only way its broken.
This thread is trying to approach the problem less from "is it legal now" and more of "should it be legal" and "how could the rule be modified"

Quote:
Originally Posted by nuclearnerd View Post
Put a time limit on "blockading" calls (whatever those are) the same way we put time limits on pins, and the problem takes care of itself.
This is an interesting idea. How would a referee indicate this time limit?
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Last edited by BrennanB : 10-03-2018 at 02:30 PM.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:27 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnSchneider View Post
So in a match where we'll say both alliances have robots of skill values 10,1,1, you believe that its acceptable that both alliances use their 2 low skill robots to prevent the high skill robots from scoring at all? Is this really what you want to see? Is this encouraging good engineering? How about if you're on the 10 team? Do you feel like your engineering efforts mattered if you can just be excluded from playing the game?

Preventing a single robot from being able to play the game is not right. Even if it takes 3 robots to do it. Just because you win does not mean that its a positive lesson for your students. Do not bring others down to lift yourself up.
Very disagreeing with you here. FRC is a sport, not a science fair. If you want to be a "10", you need to do more than just have good engineering. You also need to have:
  • good driving (practice against defense)
  • good strategy (defense-resistant, or defense aware scoring. Counter defense as an alliance)
  • a design that as much as possible is resistant to defense (holds gamepiece inside frame perimeter, can push / resist pins)
I invite you to think about the game from the perspective of the "1"s. Just because they don't have the resources of the "10"s, doesn't mean they don't have the right to gameplay that might even the odds. A win through plucky defense can be every bit as inspiring to those students (and to the audience) as a win would be for any team (and certainly more inspiring than a rule which forces them to sit in the corner and lose).
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrennanB View Post
This is an interesting idea. How would a referee indicate this time limit?
With a hand wave countdown probably, same as a pin. The "blockading" (as interpreted by the ref) might be accidental anyway, so the handwave would give the offending alliance time to correct before the cards start flying.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:38 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by nuclearnerd View Post
With a hand wave countdown probably, same as a pin. The "blockading" (as interpreted by the ref) might be accidental anyway, so the handwave would give the offending alliance time to correct before the cards start flying.
Pinning could be redefined to encompass what we already know as pinning as well as the concepts of "trapping" and blockading.

Personally my approach is to discourage certain types of game play through game design as opposed to rule enforcement. To minimize the incentives for blockades games shoukd eliminate choke points on the field, spread out multiple scoring and loading areas, and provide plenty of achievable offensive incentives for robots of varying skill levels.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:50 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

I had the impression that "No colluding to shut down major elements of game play" was intended as a catch-all rule in case someone finds a design or strategy that "breaks" the game (offensively or defensively). That's why the penalty is straight to cards.

The FTC game a few years ago (Velocity Vortex) had an opportunity for teams to design a closed loop scoring mechanism (the game also had alliance specific scoring elements). When asked about the legality in QA the response was closed loop scoring constituted shutting down major elements of game play because your alliance partner would be denied access to the scoring elements.
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrennanB View Post
Could you elaborate more on what makes it not right? Is lock down defense bad? Should defense be banned? Should the best robot always win regardless of driver ability or strategic skill? How does playing a different strategy that is common in every sport I can think of invalid in the context of FRC?


I think you want some degree of counter play to every strategy. It's the same reason FRC actively avoids creating choke hold strategies, and rules them out to the best of their abilities. I don't think blockading should be called unless there is almost no counter play. Much like pinning, when you are pinned there is no counter play, your robot is pinned, the other robot can push you. Nothing you can do.
Because I pay $5000 to get 10 plays at a regional and the opposing alliance being able to prevent me from playing at all goes against the point of FIRST. Lockdown defense is bad, and obviously FIRST agrees because we have a pinning rule. Your argument is strictly that blockading isn't as bad as pinning, and I'm saying they're the same. Obviously defense should not be banned but what is "defense"? This is not allowed in every sport. Compare blockading/pinning to holding in football. You're saying that because your line isn't good enough to stop my DE that you should be allowed to hold my DE from playing. Football is literally nothing but "you can slow me down but not prevent me from playing" penalties.

There is no counterplay to blockading. It is the same as pinning. That's the point, you are trapped.

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Originally Posted by nuclearnerd View Post
Very disagreeing with you here. FRC is a sport, not a science fair. If you want to be a "10", you need to do more than just have good engineering. You also need to have:
  • good driving (practice against defense)
  • good strategy (defense-resistant, or defense aware scoring. Counter defense as an alliance)
  • a design that as much as possible is resistant to defense (holds gamepiece inside frame perimeter, can push / resist pins)
I invite you to think about the game from the perspective of the "1"s. Just because they don't have the resources of the "10"s, doesn't mean they don't have the right to gameplay that might even the odds. A win through plucky defense can be every bit as inspiring to those students (and to the audience) as a win would be for any team (and certainly more inspiring than a rule which forces them to sit in the corner and lose).
As I explain further up real sports do not allow this behavior either. Blockading/Pinning is not "plucky defense". Its an unanswerable way to prevent someone from playing the game. And whatever nonsense you're saying about "you should always design to push other robots" is ridiculous. I'd bet you whatever amount of money you want that you could not build a robot that could push 1817 sideways this year. Because of the physical limitations of our KOP, its possible to build un-pushable robots. Defensive robots in FRC already have all the advantages they should be afforded, allowing them prevent a robot from competing with no counterplay should not be allowed. Blockading is no different from pinning except that it has not gotten the attention it deserves over the last decade, and I'm glad that it's finally been brought to light.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 02:59 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

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Originally Posted by JohnSchneider View Post
So in a match where we'll say both alliances have robots of skill values 10,1,1, you believe that its acceptable that both alliances use their 2 low skill robots to prevent the high skill robots from scoring at all? Is this really what you want to see? Is this encouraging good engineering? How about if you're on the 10 team? Do you feel like your engineering efforts mattered if you can just be excluded from playing the game?

Preventing a single robot from being able to play the game is not right. Even if it takes 3 robots to do it. Just because you win does not mean that its a positive lesson for your students. Do not bring others down to lift yourself up.
In the real world matches I have seen, the skill value 1 & 2 robots play defense a the skill value 1 & 2 level and the skill level 8 & 9 robots play anti-defense at the 8 & 9 level so blockade does not persist for very long.

In instances where truly "plucky defense" was played, the team may have had a level 1 or 2 robot but it was driven by a driver at a much higher skill level.

Last edited by philso : 10-03-2018 at 03:02 PM.
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Unread 10-03-2018, 03:02 PM
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Re: Blockading Rule Reform

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Originally Posted by philso View Post
In the real world matches I have seen, the skill value 1 & 2 robots play defense a the skill value 1 & 2 level and the skill level 8 & 9 robots play anti-defense at the 8 & 9 level so blockade does not persist for very long.
Blockading is an equalizer. It literally just requires you to sit sideways.
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