In The Zone - game manual coverAs a new coach, I found it difficult to take in ALL the information that was placed in front of me at any given time. Some stuff just got glossed over because, well, that’s how life works. One thing that I did not realize in my first year is that the game rules manual gets updated twice during the summer after it is published—this year on June 15th and August 17th (yesterday). Here’s a link to the latest In The Zone game manual as well as Appendix B for skills challenge, which include all of the changes described below. You can get the scoop on these rule changes straight from the horse’s mouth on the VEX Forum post, “VRC In The Zone Manual Updates.”

Rules are grouped into categories and are referenced in all documentation and descriptions by their abbreviations:

  • <G> – how the Game is played; doesn’t vary that much from year to year
  • <SG> – Specific Game rules for the current year’s game
  • <R> – limitations on the construction of the Robot
  • <T> – how the Tournament gets run
  • <S> – Safety
  • Game Definitions & Tournament Definitions – abbreviations and numbering not used

I’ve listed the changes here in the order of their general importance, not in the order they are listed in the game manual.

Maximum Robot Size <SG14>

Robots must start each match fitting within an 18 x 18 x 18-inch box. The original game manual stated that during the match, robots could expand up to 48″ wide (no restriction on height).

  • The June 15 update changed this rule, reducing the maximum width to 36″, and clarifying that it must fit inside an invisible cylinder with 36″ diameter, in response to various VEX Forum questions about technicalities that would essentially allow robots to be bigger than the stated maximum.
  • The August 17 update further clarified this rule to replace the “cylinder” wording with new text citing a maximum horizontal dimension of 36″, again to avoid technicalities that teams could employ to somehow exploit the previous definition.

Blocking <SG7>

This rule number was just straight-up missing from the original game manual (it skipped from <SG6> to <SG8>).

  • The June 15 update added text for this rule, stating that 2 robots of an alliance may not conspire together to block access to portions of the field. If two 36″-wide robots work together, they could make it nearly impossible for the opposing alliance to reach their own scoring area, cone loader, etc. This rule specifies that this strategy is not allowed.

Here’s a photo of a rather-ridiculous robot from Sack Attack a number of years ago to demonstrate the issue. While this is extreme blocking of Blue’s scoring areas (and much more than 36″ wide), this is the type of activity they’re trying to prevent. (I’m not sure you’re even allowed to build something like this any more.)

Sack Attack wallbot

Sack Attack robot that expands into 3 segments, completely blocking the Blue Alliance’s access to their scoring trays.

Cone-Hoarding <SG9>

VEX In the Zone ConeTeams cannot possess more than one cone at a time (unchanged). The original rules stated specifically that robots could not use a concave part of their robot to push multiple cones at once. It allowed that robots may push multiple cones or hold a cone & push other cones with a flat or convex portion of the robot.

  • The June 15 update added text clarifying that teams may not push multiple cones—even with a flat or convex portion of their robot—with the purpose of moving multiple cones to a specific location. The intent of the cone-pushing allowance is that robots can drive through a bunch of cones on their way to doing something else, and that those cones being moved do not count as “possessing”. However, if the purpose of the robot’s movement is to move a bunch of cones at once to a certain location or direction, then that is not permitted and robots doing so will be deemed as violating this 1-cone rule.
  • The August 17 update further clarified this rule with small wording changes.

Touching Stacked Cones <SG9>

The original game manual stated that robots were not permitted to touch any cones in a stack, and if they did so, all cones in the stack from the touched one up to the very top, are now considered “not stacked” and therefore worth 0 points (the rule was based on the idea that if you’re touching the 3rd cone from the top in a stack, that you’re possessing the whole top part of the stack, violating the 1-cone rule). This seemed a rather tall order, especially seeing that robots will regularly be carrying/moving around mobile goals with big wobbly stacks of cones on them.

Under the original rules, if the stack of cones tipped a little and touched a part of the robot, then all of those cones from the touched one on up would be immediately “not stacked”. I imagine that keeping track of which cone touched the robot and which mobile goal it was on, would be a nightmare in real-world competition scenarios with 4 robots driving around the field at once. The rule also failed to describe what would be done with any new cones that were placed on top of that stack.

  • The June 15 update added a Note stating that stacked cones do not count towards the possession limit and that robots can interact with cones that are stacked on goals without those cones counting toward the 1-cone-at-a-time limit. In other words, you can touch a cone in the middle of the stack without repercussions.
  • The August 17 update made further clarification because the above rule contradicts the definition of “stacked,” in which it says that if a robot is touching the cone, it’s not stacked. But <SG9> says that robots may interact with cones stacked on top of a mobile goal. So which is it? The August 17 rule addition states that robots can interact with stacked cones, fully nested on upright goals, without them counting toward the 1-cone-at-a-time limit IF the only thing making them technically “not stacked” is that the robot is touching them (i.e., they meet all of the other definitions of “stacked”).

Definition of “Stacked”

  • The June 15 update modified the definition of “stacked” to state that cones only count as stacked if the mobile goal they’re sitting on is upright. So, stacked cones on a mobile goal down on its side don’t count. 0 points. Stacked cones on tilted goals are also fine—which will typically occur when a mobile goal is partially resting on one of the bars in the scoring area (thin starting bar or big 10-point bar).
  • The August 17 update added the following image concerning mobile goals that are tilted or tipped over.
    In The Zone Game Manual updateThe caption of this image is interesting to me.

    • Figure 9 I can get: mobile goal on its side, “not stacked”.
    • Figure 10 I can also get: mobile goal resting on the big bar, and tilted somewhat: “yes stacked”.
    • Figure 11 has no specific commentary in the text definition, but clearly shows that if the mobile goal is tipped over and resting on the field perimeter that it is also “yes stacked”. The caption—”A mobile goal that is tilted due to its cones resting on the field perimeter”—to me makes no sense. To me, this image shows cones resting on the field perimeter due to their mobile goal being tilted, and not the other way around as it says in the caption. It’s pretty clear to me that the cones resting on the perimeter did not cause the MG to be tilted. The MG tipped so much that the cones are now being supported by the perimeter. Perhaps clarification will be forthcoming?

No Funny Business <SG15>

This is a new rule added in the August 17 update, stating that scoring objects cannot be used to accomplish actions that would be illegal if they were done by the robot itself. In other words, you can’t hold a cone and use it to move or adjust other cones in a stack, because you would not be permitted to do such a thing with the robot’s grabbing mechanism itself (sans cone).

It’s sort of like you kid brother waving his hands around in your face in the back seat of the car saying “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” You can’t hold a cone and use it to push around other cones, by saying “Look, I’m not actually touching them, I’m just touching the cone I’m holding.” Yeah, no. I’m sure there are other shenanigans that people were planning to do that would also fall under this rule.

Other Minor Changes – August 17 Update

  • <SG3> has a small wording change about only 1 cone being on the loader at a time; no change in the rule’s overall gist.
  • <SG5> has an “i.e.” comment added to clarify what it means to remove cones from an opponent’s stack.
  • Tournament rules for small events (≤ 17 teams) were updated to clarify what happens in Alliance Selection.
  • Appendix B (Skills Challenge) was updated with a small wording change to the tiebreaker rules.

Make Sure You Have the Latest Manual

Here are the links again to the game rules manual, reflecting the June and August updates. Take a look at the copy you have now; if it says 2017-08-17 in the page footer, you’ve got the latest one. If not, download the latest game manual and Appendix B (skills challenge) now!