Is Defense Back in a Big (Bad) Way?

Just wondering how many teams out there have had a chance to simulate real-match quality defense yet?

Team 610 has been running Open Practice sessions for Toronto area teams for the past two weeks, and we’ve had the pleasure of having several teams run both with and against us.

This past weekend was the first time we felt the robot was “ready” to go up against near-competition-level defense. We had our good friends at 4476 match up against us, as well as our alumni driving our 2013 World Championship robot “Taz” on defense.

What we learned is that defense can be really effective this year, even to the point that it could negatively impact the enjoyment of the game - both to participants and spectators alike. I like defense in games, but this year seems to be on a higher tier than most.

I’m not one to make predictions, but I can see a savvy defense robot posting a disturbingly low GAA (Goals Against Average - for you hockey fans), especially during early week quals. I can see a robot like this shutting out all but the absolute best, elite level robots at a competition. Think: having a competition with 40 teams, and say only 4 of them can actually score any boulders if quality defense is played against them.

We often measure a robot/team’s effectiveness by their net effect on score. Stopping the opponent from scoring points is just as impactful as scoring points for your own alliance. Seriously disrupting opposing boulder points from being scored seems… well… pretty easy.

Lastly, breaking defenses alone is proving to be very hard on the robots. When adding tough defense robots into the mix, I think a lot of teams will have difficulty keeping their robots functioning for an entire competition. This isn’t the same kind of bumper-to-bumper contact we’ve seen in past games. Even with really good teams/drivers/robots, we had robots driving into/onto/over each other. So many drivetrains are built to tackle the tall and bumpy defenses, inadvertently driving over an opposing robot’s bumpers and into their robot was definitely something that happened too often.

I’m a bit worried that small events might struggle to field a full complement of working robots for the elimination rounds. Robots with fully working drivetrains might be rare on the backend of the serpentine draft.

I’m a bit worried that boulder scores might be awkwardly low in any match where there’s a defense robot - unless one of the elite teams is on the field.

Is anyone else as worried about defense as me? Or am I the only one?

You’re not alone.

I think most events, up to and including the championship event, will be decided by being able to get low goal scored past the defense and keeping your robot from breaking.

I can say without question many events will have some limping robots by the time finals comes around.

Shawn, you might have been simulating competition-quality defense (which no team ever does enough of… our brutish 2013 robot is going to be getting some extra miles these next few weeks from yours truly, I assure you) but can you say you were simulating any and all likely competition-quality courtyard scenarios?

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You know, we all complained about the lack of defense last year.

So the GDC gave us defense AND DEFENSES. Two years worth of bumper rookies in one, two years worth of defense in one. I think this is going to be Breakaway levels of robot defense, sandwiched in between the Stronghold Defenses.

This one’s gonna be interesting and crazy.

I desperately hope teams have the mind to bring in a lot of replacement parts. Last year defense was complained about in the game that was pretty much player vs environment, now we have a year where its player vs player vs environment.

An overbuilt robot is a must this season. I agree strongly that teams (or even groups of students; this sport has a very short rotation of veterans after all) who only know last year will be punch drunk when they experience this year’s game. I am very concerned about broken bots on the field and in the pits.

Since only one defender is allowed to guard thier castle, I think teamwork can help overcome this problem. But I agree with the comments about a rough game, the pits are going to be crazy busy this year.

Doesn’t mean you can only defend from the castle though

We went through several scenarios that we worked out with other teams at our practice, including individual cycling and feeding cycles among other things.

The defensive robot mostly played zone denial upon entry of the attacker from neutral to courtyard, then tried to disrupt them from reaching their shooting position with a mixture of head-on pinning and t-boning. After the opponent makes their shot, the defensive robot then player denial again, disrupting the attacker from leaving the courtyard.

From standing behind the driver station on both sides (attacking and defending), I observed that the Middle Driver Station and Right Side Driver Station have absolutely no vision through the glass of the Secret Passage or the left-side goal when trying to play defense. Conversely from the Left Driver Station, the driver has little to no vision of the right-side goal and the spy area.

I think that strategy will make or break a team’s offensive strategy this year, as without cameras, the defending robot is at a huge disadvantage, and if the defensive robot is known before the match begins, a strategy can be made to exploit it.

I don’t think you gave me the specific answer I was looking for, but that’s ok.

I would definitely agree that use of cameras in this game is potentially part of the foundation for a good strategy. Teams should take any opportunities within the bounds of the rules and Q&A rulings to maximize vision for their drivers.

An effective scoring robot capable of handling defense, is a robot that never has to fully go into the opponents courtyard (subject to defense) when scoring.

great thread.
This is 2010 all over again in a very big way.

This is our teams take away from this past weekend as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing alliance strategies, both defensive and offensive.

we played some defense and got some defense played on us at the Suffield Shakedown. Defense is something that is really needed this year. You can destroy a high goal shooters chances with good defense.

Also warning to teams with those giant 12"+ wheels. Smaller robots will flip you. It may be an accident maybe not and it is a foul but beware.

I am interested to see how the lack of ‘tall’ robots impacts defensive play this year. It strikes me that a box with a stick or a box with a wall will be a very effective non-chassis-contacting defensive robot.

It also seems likely that teams who can shoot from the nominal protection of the outer works will have significant protection from said short robots.

A lot of care must be taken in this strategy - if a robot releases control of a boulder and does not fully enter their opponents courtyard they will draw a foul. However, darting into the courtyard after the boulder has been shot should be quite easy.

I hope it is.

RIP Low shooters w/o a plan for this.

My prediction is that defense will not be as effective against elite teams who designed to play the game to be very hard to defend against but extremely effective against everyone else. Shooting from the outerworks and over any defenders is a great way to negate defense. This shooting ability will be a tiny minority though. Everyone else is going to face Aerial Assault but even worse since the goals are narrower.

I definitely agree on the potential for defense to really play a big factor this year. This is the first game I can remember where if you don’t have a certain minimum score, you can’t access a lot of the point potential an alliance can obtain from capture/climb and that’s not really figuring in how many points you stop from keeping them under 8 goals scored. If you force them to go low goal, that’s also 2.5 times less efficient than 1 high goal scored so they need to score 3 times to your one to come out ahead on point potential.

These are just some of the reasons we’ve intentionally kept our design flexible to cater to the defensive evolution of the game this year. This could prove to be FCS blockers from 2013 and goalie poles from 2014 on steroids, or some tandem offensive strategies could evolve that consistently prove to knive through defense attempts like they were toilet paper. It’ll be interesting to watch the evolution, that’s for sure.

Here is my take, based on an admittedly small sample set of one practice competition. But also on a bunch of simulated games using remotely controlled Lego Mindstorm robots. Defense in the courtyard is very effective one on one. Not nearly as effective when the offensive robots cooperate. If a robot can either score from the protection of still being in the defense or it can score from the batter then good cooperative tactics can cut down on the effectiveness of defense in the courtyard. I think that during qualification matches, particularly in the first few weeks, defenders will have more of an advantage. But once teams figure out how to block and pick and roll it will be tougher.

I think simply blocking one of the defenses may be the most effective way to slow opponents down. Particularly since I see a lot of alliances with 1-3 defenses they can’t cross in qualifications. In our simulated games slowing opponents as they come out of your courtyard and again as they try to cross back in was just about as effective as defense inside the courtyard. (Caveat: We were playing with a bunch of bots that had a “race to the batter and score” offensive strategy, so once they got around a courtyard defender they were hard to stop.) This will be one of the games where it will be hard for the great robots to dominate on their own. I think effective scouting is going to be absolutely imperative. You need to select the defenses that will most inconvenience your opponents and then use a strategy that takes advantage of your selections.

I’m having a tough time reading how this game is going to play out defensively. In 2014 it was clear defense was going to be a critical part of the game as only 1 game element per alliance ostensibly forced 2/3rds of all the robots on the field into playing defense (since there wasn’t much else to do).

This year a highly effective defender might be able to partially shut down scoring in the tower, since it is a relatively small area to defend. At the same time, I think an offensive blitz strategy can and will easily overwhelm the forced single defender. In my opinion the most effective defenders will be the ones that can force turnovers and deposit boulders in the passage. This will make the opposing alliance “waste” cycles going back through the defenses to grab more boulders.

I think one thing that’s missing in this thread is the fact that the opposing alliance will (I think) be focusing more on getting their RP’s than on playing defense.

From the Week 0 events, putting 8 balls into the tower was rare from what I saw. Without those 8 Balls, that’s a Ranking Point left on the table. Devastating to teams trying to seed high. Further, taking down the defenses quickly enough to leave enough time to score 8 balls must be a team effort. Failure to breach your opponents outer works would again leave a Ranking Point on the table and again devastating to teams trying to seed high.

In most cases, if you play well enough to get your two RP’s in the match, the additional RP’s from winning the match will most likely follow ensuring a high seed.

I think the nature of both alliances trying to get those all important ranking points will limit defense and create a fun, high scoring game to watch. I hope.