Hypothetical Rebalancing of Old Games: 2017 Steamworks

So I like to look at old games to find patterns and try to figure out what the future holds. And as i look back, one game in particular, a game which holds fond memories for me, keeps sticking out as one with poor game balancing. And that’s 2017.

So what’s 2017’s issue? There’s 3 major ones.

*Climbs are worth too much

*Fuel isn’t worth enough

*Diminishing returns on gear placement (though I recognize part of this is intentional)

So let’s start with climbs. So a reminder for everyone, a climb is worth 50 points in this game. Let’s compare that to another part of the game. A rotor during telep is worth 40 points. So this means every bot HAS to climb essentially. Otherwise, you could have 2 robots who are doing amazing, with one dead partner, 4 rotors and 2 climbs, and get beaten out by an alliance with 3 robots getting 3 robots and 2 climbs. A rotor, particularly towards the end as the gear total gets higher and higher, is much more difficult to achieve than a climb, and I feel like should be rewarded as such. I have 3 potential solutions. Increase the amount of points for every rotor, decrease the amount of points per climb, or make the amount of points per rotor rise for each subsequent rotor. I’m personally a fan of either 2 or 3, as raising the points for all of them feels kind of wrong… 3 in particular is nice because it could be designed so for example in the difference between 2 and 3 rotors the climb wins, but 3 and 4 the rotor wins. A lot more flexible. It also helps address problem 3 of diminishing returns on future gears.

Problem 2: fuel. Ah yes fuel. Fuel had so many issues. While technically the easier solo RP, points wise it wasn’t really doing it for more teams, especially if you didn’t complete the RP in auto. I think a few things could be done. Increasing the size of the goal may have made it a bit easier/more manageable, particularly the high goal. The point values for fuel could also have been raised, but so too would the RP threshold. This would make both game elements viable scoring options, yet both RPs adequately difficult, and force teams to have to pick and choose which RP to focus on. It would also allow for specialization and more complex alliances.

Problem 3: I think this is the least of the issues, but it is a bit weird when earlier on one gear is worth 40 points, but it takes 6 gears to reach that same threshold later on. I like the idea of the harder the rotor the more points it’s worth personally, though there’s also a bit of an argument for points per gear, with rotors maybe being worth extra points?

These are just my initial thoughts, I wanted to get this off my chest because it’s literally been bugging me for like 5 years now lol. I’m curious if you agree with my assessment of the game balancing issues, or if people disagree. Obviously this is just my opinion, and wise people will disagree, but I’d love to debate and discuss.


A climb is solo whereas gears is a cumulative alliance based score. So it seems balanced in that aspect.

Fuel was too hard for the typical team to worry about. So that needed rebalanced. Perhaps larger, less fuel game pieces, higher score to encourage that activity.

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Couldn’t agree more. I remember so many matches where fuel was only touched by robots with pinpoint accuracy. Everyone else focused on gears & defense.

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I’m confused how that makes it more balanced though. Like, a single team can also score gears. I think the fact that an entire alliance can basically be guaranteed to lose (even if they do six more cycles) because one robot can’t climb is a bit silly/frustrating. I also remember on Carson 2017 there were so many field connection issues that led to missed climbs as well. My general rule of thumb for climbs or other endgame tasks is that for it to be balanced, a high skill team (like, Einstein level) should be able to ~match the # of points by placing game elements in the last 30 seconds. May be a little more, may be a little less, but in Steamworks that was basically impossible. An example of what I felt was a better climb balance was say 2019, where a high tier team could, albiet difficultly, score 4 cargo or 3 cargo and a park in the endgame period.

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The wiffle balls were harder for teams to figure out how to handle consistently than GDC expected. The problem is that if top tier robots can still make as many as they did in top tier play… how many points can get added to fuel without making those top tier mechanisms ultra-dominant?

With the wide open strap design space, I’m not surprised teams could figure climbing out much more easily. 2 seconds for 50 points. GDC overcompensated after climbing was rare in stronghold. The last few years has had a pretty good balance of endgame climb points against midgame points.

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The endgame also was “don’t miss your airship”. So balancing for teams to try to outscore the climb doesn’t make sense in the story.

That being said, one mechanism would be some sort of positve feedback where the more fuel you score the more they are worth. So that by the time you get to endgame, they are worth enough.

Another wacky idea, is that climbs aren’t worth points but are kPa multipliers. Like 1 climb = 2x, 2 climbs = 4x and 3 = 6x.

edit: Alternatively, it could be 2x, 3x, 4x. That might be slightly better. This makes 2 climbs + 40kPa and 3 climbs + 30kPa into a tie. In this 3 climbs + 40kPa is equivalent to 4 rotors.


I was not with 2767 for their 2017 world championship, but I have some thoughts of my own here.

  1. Make every gear worth 20 points
  2. Make every climb 30 points, so 2 climbs is 3 cycles
  3. Replace the existing goal with an Aerial Assist style goal, with a full field width and a hot goal worth double, base points out of auto are .25 points per ball
  4. Watch as Andymark gets rid of their fuel supply

I can’t say I completely agree. I think too much of it does take away from the game story/aesthetics. Especially the field width goals. But one point about 2014 style goals, would be having a lower boiler goal that you could just bulldoze a bunch of fuel into.

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To each their own haha. I just think the game would be awesome if everyone could just spray fuel into a massive goal. It would be visually stunning in a way Steamworks never really got to be imho.


As it was at most levels of play there was a lot of strategy around going / not going for the 4th rotor and how to (or how much to) defend against it. If you make gear scoring linear it completely removes this aspect of the game and the strategy is reduced to “score stuff fast”. While I agree everyone spraying fuel might have been neat at a championship / field of champions level it would be very underwhelming at a regional level.


I respectfully disagree. While as a drive coach and strategist it was fun to debate going for 4 or defending, I don’t think it was very fun for the spectators. Goes back to the often-argued aspect of whether it should be fun for everyone or just fun for those involved. I’m of the opinion that we inspire more students with fuel featuring heavily than with a strategic swing point on whether to go for 4 or not. I think a lot more teams can score in a goal that big because they would spend less time trying to make an accurate shooter and more time on how to get as many balls as possible into the goal.


I wonder if we could also get some teams who manage to shoot into such a big goal while running gears. Passively intake fuel off the ground en route to gears, then shoot while driving. No idea what the balancing effect would be, but it would look cool as heck.


See as much as I’ve enjoyed the themed aspect of the games (I know, I’m a nerd), I feel like the themes should be additional fun things versus deciding factors in game design over actual game balancing.


The boiler was surprisingly large in terms of surface area. It just had a small funnel at the top. Remove the funnel and have a large open top and you’ve solved most all of the fuel issues.

Because you don’t want to equate a championship team running other gear/twirl scoring, with individual effort to design (or buy) a climbing mechanism. Every team should have the opportunity to win the game on their play even if its is the only play, they are good at. Not all points should be “near impossible”

The championship team already has the climb every time, so it does not matter what a climbing team does …net zero so the points on the climb even out


It just is a matter of how far do you stray before you are creating a different game entirely. So I take it as rebalancing Steamworks, which includes the story, aesthetic, game pieces, and general scoring concepts.

Just as an example, I wouldn’t say rebalancing is adding some other game piece that could be scored to offset the climbing points (unless it was pretty much fuel).

To address the climbs, I think they should have stipulated 50pts for a climb if you used the field robe (much bigger/harder to climb) or 25-30 pts for a climb if you brought your own rope.

The boiler opening probably should’ve been bigger and the point value for high goals should’ve been like 2 balls/pt in the high and 4 balls/pt in the low during the driver period.

The diminishing gear point value I think was alright. It took work to get to the 4th rotor but that gave a ranking point or huge point bonus (too big of a bonus I think).

It would’ve been neat if fuel was worth 2x during the end game to incentivize teams to shoot and wait till the last second to climb.


The small whiffle ball fuel is the issue, its a trap for most teams . We fell into it. Might have scored 20 fuel in 2 events total. A huge waste of time and effort

Not to mention field reset nightmare

Nah it’s fine

I didn’t get this impression, it seems more like the GDC just didn’t understand how teams prioritize based on point value and what cycle time analysis looks like. They were a bit annoying, sure, but the average team didn’t receive enough points to begin to care about them.

2017 fuel value is easily in the top 5 out of touch GDC moments of the last decade, solidified when they changed the kPa display on the airship to have a smaller range.