The Best Way to Kick-Off

I was wondering how other teams run their kick-offs? How do you make sure all voices are heard? How do you make sure everyone knows the rules? Is there anything unique your team does on kick-off


On our team, we all meet to watch the game reveal and then head to a conference room one of our sponsors is able to provide. We spend some time reading critical rules together, spend time reading the rules separately, and then have a short rules test (prepared during the rules reading time by our strategy captain and strategy mentors) that everyone is required to pass. We allow everyone to use the manual during the test, as the goal is to make sure everyone understands the game rather than judging existing knowledge.

From there, we move on to general robot strategies in small groups (~5 students/mentors), so everyone can have their voice heard. Afterwards, each group shares the strategy/strategies they decided on, and the group as a whole discusses the options and makes edits (using a cost-benefit analysis if decisions between options are tough) until we coalesce on a single strategy that most of the team is happy with. (“Strategy” in this case means what the robot is able to do, not at all how it will do it - e.g. “place hatches and cargo at all levels of the rocket, with no climb”). All of the above happens on the day of kickoff.

The next day, we move on to general robot design based on the strategy, working out cycle times using human estimates and making minor edits to the overall strategy if a certain design seems unreasonable. This design generally involves some geometry and space claims to test feasibility, like seeing if a two-stage elevator is enough for the whole rocket or if three stages are necessary. We also work on specific component designs, such as a hatch grabber or climber claws. We encourage every member of the team to propose ideas for whole robot designs or component designs to fit the strategy decided on. We still allow for strategy changes if a certain part of the decided strategy seems unfeasible or insufficient for success, but we try to remain on the same page for overall strategy. This process begins and makes great progress on the second day of the season, but continues for some time into the season as designs are chosen and CADed and iterations made.


This covers how we plan our kickoff. I plan on revisiting it this year, but don’t plan on making any major changes.

High level summary - watch video, comb through the rules for some answers to common questions from year to year, break into small groups for discussion, then large group discussion for point value breakdown, gut feel on cost/benefit analysis, gut feel form timing analysis.

Biggest change this year may be more time spent jumping into building the field on Saturday so people (mentors included) can spend more individual time analyzing the game.

Team members (students and adults) should watch/study the “Fall Workshops 2018 - Strategic Design” video by Citrus Ciruits and one of the “Effective FIRST Strategies” videos by Karthik before Kickoff.

Devise a mechanism to ensure that as many team members study the Game Manual (and keep up with the updates afterward). Dividing the Game Manual up and assigning each section to one group did not work well at all last year.

Discuss the possible implications (hidden freedoms and hidden restrictions) in each rule and in the interaction between the rules.

Take sufficient time to make a good decision based on a thorough understanding of the Game Manual and an honest evaluation of your team’s capabilities. It is probably better to delay deciding what to build and build the right robot, especially if your team is lacking in resources or capacity to build. We missed the Null Hatches and their implications in game play this past year and built the wrong robot. It was pretty well built and reliable but still the wrong robot.

Find a mechanism for ensuring that the voices heard are informed voices as Mike Corsetto suggests in the Citrus Circuits video.

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There are a lot of previous discussions on this topic. I highly suggest you use the search function to start reading through those. Here are some topics I found in 30 seconds:


The way my team went about kick off in 2019 obviously started with watching the game reveal and after that we went straight to the game manual to get an idea of all the rules. Then something new for my team was to go into game strategy and not focus on the robot whatsoever, what we did was split the team up into 4 different groups that would spend about an hour coming up with what they thought was the best strategy and then we present what we came up with to the rest of the team and we voted on which strategy we think would work the best. We decided on a level 1 cargo and hatch panel robot that has a fast and reliable level 3 climb. After we decided on that we moved more towards the specifics of what is legal and what is not. And for the next few days we worked on that before we ever even thought about the robot.

Waffle Saturday!

Our team gathers in our workshop (and 2 other large rooms) to make waffles (texas-shaped, of course) and watch the game reveal. Those that drew the short straw drive up the coast to get our kit/watch the reveal with a group of other teams, then head back to the workshop.

Strategy division retreats to download/print/digest all the rules, then throughout the day “Quiz” the rest of the team on the basics. A point-earning summary, education of the whole team on this years game, and recommendations to Mechanical/Controls are the goals.

Mechanical and Controls group separately for brainstorming and prototyping.
Mech breaks into sub-groups for major mechanism design.
Marketing & Business continue season prep, finalize T-shirts & swag, and any immediate parts ordering (handoff from Mech/Controls).
Honestly not a clue what Controls does?

If there is a VR walkthrough provided, we set that up for kids to cycle through.

Lunch brought in by parents.
Strategy, Mech, Controls & Team Leadership sidebar for further goal setting, immediate supplies needed. Rough outline of goals and schedule. Trips to hardware stores organized if necessary.

Work continues.
Dinner brought in by parents to the workshop.
Eventually kick everyone out about 7-8 PM.

My desire to be with 2102 during kickoff is almost eclipsed by my desire to steal some 3128 waffles.

I head to the office early to print manuals as soon as the decription code comes out. We gather together in the library, and watch the reveal video together twice. After that we break into groups, each group taking a section of the manual. Each group presents the major points of their section, and we do a Q&A type session to make sure we understand the edge cases, and that everyone is on the same page. Each group nominates someone who can stay late, and we bring a smaller group into a classroom to talk strategy until 8 or so.

Once we have a strategy or two picked out, we meet up in a big group again on Sunday and talk through the robot’s functional requirements to play the game, and start brainstorming mechanism ideas. Groups nominate someone to stay late again, and we start sketching out the robot on a system level. I would like to modify this second day to focus more on prototype building and practical exploration.

Pretty much like others said above - prep with Karthik, watch the video, read and discuss the rules, enjoy a parent/mentor cooked lunch, define strategies and select among them.

If you have significantly more than a dozen people, break the initial brainstorming into multiple parallel sessions. Most people are less shy to sound out a strange idea in a smaller group.

Quizzes, of course. The bottom line is that you need at least a few people who DO know the rules, and who collectively are present at every significant strategy and design decision (and are not afraid to speak up).

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The past two years, we have hosted a kickoff event (not an official Local Kickoff) for the local 4-6 teams. We collectively call ourselves The LowCountry Alliance.
Anyway, we begin with a simple breakfast followed by workshops (virtual prototyping, sheet metal fabrication, scouting basics, introduction to pneumatics, etc.). Team members choose a workshop to attend. The workshops end just about 10 minutes before the stream begins.

After the reveal, we offer areas for teams to remain on campus to begin brainstorming. In addition, we offer those teams a hardcopy of the rules.

This season (2020), we are an official Local Kickoff and will probably follow the same routine.

After the kickoff, my team begins to dissect the rules. The mentors and more experienced members refuse to discuss strategy until everyone has read through the rules at least once. New members are excited and usually want to discuss game play immediately following the stream. Then we begin examining the actions provide highest number of points per cycle, the highest number of RPs, etc.

I’m certain that we are no different from any other team; we use small groups to allow in the initial discussions about the finer points of the drivetrain, chassis design, and the upper robot (manipulator). Prototyping, re-reading the rules & updates, redesigning more prototyping. Once or twice, we decided on a feature to let the members work through the design considerations…which is a fantastic teaching tool, but creates some problems with game play.

Rather than a written test on the rules, we play a series of Kahoot games on each section of the rules (they are played during the first week of build season). We’ve discovered that the competition encourages members to learn the rules (after all, no one likes to have the lowest score).

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