FIRST Robotics Competition Blog

Game Piece Availability Challenges

Jan 26, 2018 Written by Frank Merrick



Every year, FIRST Robotics Competition designs a game that includes one or more objects the robots must manipulate, the ‘game piece.’ Many factors go into determining what this game piece will be. We like to change things up from year to year, so the teams are not always dealing with the same types of challenges. For this reason, as an example, if we used a 10” round foam ball one year, we would be unlikely (I said unlikely) to use a 10” round foam ball the following year. We also need to take into consideration game piece availability and expense, both for FIRST and for FRC teams.  And when we think about ‘availability’ and ‘expense,’ we recognize that while slightly over 80% of FRC teams are currently in the US, we also must consider the needs of teams outside the USA.

For FIRST POWER UP, we knew we wanted a game piece that was cube-shaped. We considered several options, including fully custom foam cubes. In the end, we went with an off-the-shelf (in the USA) milk crate and a custom cover. This seemed to strike the right balance between all the competing factors we needed to consider.

While FIRST and our distributors can fairly easily predict demand for game pieces for our Kit of Parts and fields, the demand for game pieces from our teams is harder to predict. We underestimated that demand this year. While the milk crates are readily available in the US, our cover manufacturer is maxing out their production capacity. Working with our distributors, we have attempted a fair allocation of their activity, delaying as much as we dare cover production for FRC fields, to help meet the demand for teams. However, even with this delay, demand from teams will outstrip supply.

Also, game pieces for teams outside the United States are very expensive, primarily because of shipping charges. While we provided an option for teams outside the US to get an additional game piece at Kickoff in exchange for FIRST Choice Credits, we recognize that many teams would like to get more than one. In addition, we had a miscommunication with our distributors regarding sales outside the US, and so delayed distributor availability of game pieces overseas to help ensure equitable treatment of those suppliers.

I apologize for these issues. These are the actions we’re taking to help alleviate this problem this season and in coming seasons:

  • As noted above, we are delaying production of covers for FIRST fields to help meet team demand
  • We are working to develop a pattern for teams to use so they can create their own covers*
  • We will be starting earlier on sourcing and arranging for production of the 2019 game pieces
  • We will be working with Distributors for the 2019 season to help ensure availability outside the United States starting on Kickoff
  • We will be more actively incorporating feedback regarding game piece selection and design from the community outside the US during the game design process

Again, I apologize for the issues we have had. We are working to make things better.


*My wife, who mentors the FRC team my son and daughter in high school are on, has already sewn several covers for their team to use.

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Figuring out how to make a pattern for covers is an excellent example of using STEM outside traditional STEM careers. Pattern making is Math!

We have also made extra covers, however, the fabric is very hard to find in Israel and after going to three different towns including Haifa a major city, the fabric we found was not exactly the same and behaves differently than the original, not to mention that the milk crates here are also different in size and shape...amazing our teams manage to get to Einstein field at champs!!

While a pattern/directions would be nice, the more significant barrier to making the cover is knowing the specs on the fabric and zipper. There are several brands/weights of yellow nylon and choosing the right one could make a difference to either the intake grip or to the machine vision testing. Getting the exactly correct zipper may not be as important, but it would still be best to know what it is before investing the effort in sewing game pieces. Could FIRST please make this information available as soon as possible?

Thank you.

Can we use DC Planet gear motor  this year?


Hi, Mr. Endres. Please search the Q&A,, for an answer to your question. If you don't see it already asked, feel free to submit a question of your own. Instructions are in this blog:

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