VEX 5 Game Review And How to Play
VEX 5: Game Review And How to Play
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VEX 5: Game Review And How to Play

VEX Robotics launched its newest game, VEX 5, in 2023, introducing an exciting new challenge for students to design, build, and program competitive robots. In this comprehensive review and guide, we’ll deeply dive into all aspects of VEX 5, including its game design, robot builds, programming, and strategies for competitive success. Whether new to VEX or a seasoned veteran, this article will provide critical insights to master VEX 5.

Overview of VEX Robotics

For context, let’s first briefly review what VEX Robotics is about. Founded in 2007, VEX Robotics creates modular metal robotics kits for educational and competitive use. Students can use the VEX system to build creative robots and battle other teams in VEX Robotics Competition (VRC) games.

VEX designs a new game each year, which teams must strategize and build robots around. The games integrate programming and STEM skills in an engaging, hands-on way. Over 15,000 teams from 50 countries compete in VEX contests annually.

VEX distinguishes itself from other robotic platforms through:

  • Educational focus – VEX is built around classroom STEM education and teamwork.
  • Metal construction – VEX parts are precision-machined metal, making the robots extremely durable.
  • Modularity – VEX components can be mixed and matched to create custom robots.
  • Affordability – VEX is priced to be accessible for school programs.

This winning formula has made VEX the world’s largest and fastest-growing educational robotics brand.

Introducing the VEX 5 Game

VEX Robotics announced VEX 5 as the new game for the 2022-2023 VRC season. As with each new game, teams must design a unique robot to complete the game’s objectives.

The VEX 5 game features an aviation theme to inspire students in science and engineering. Teams of up to 15 students will compete in the competition High Altitude.

Game Description

The VEX 5 game is played on a 12 ft x 12 ft square field. Two alliances of two teams compete in matches consisting of a 15-second autonomous period followed by a 1-minute 45-second driver-controlled period.

The field contains two airfields, one for each alliance, positioned diagonally across from each other. The airfields each have a runway and hangar.

The game pieces are:

  • Planes – Robot-sized plane models placed on each airfield’s runway at the start. There are eight planes total, 4 per alliance.
  • Cargo – 18″ foam cubes representing aeroplane cargo. 12 load are arranged around the centre of the field.
  • Drones – Small foam cubes. Each airfield has a designated drone delivery zone with drones available as “bonus” game objects.

The objectives are to:

  • Take Off – Remove planes from your airfield’s runway and lift them into flight. This earns points.
  • Landing – Gently return your planes to your airfield’s hangar without crashing. Earns more points if landed on the yellow helipad.
  • Deliver Cargo – Transport the cargo cubes into your alliance’s planes. Higher-value cargo must be placed on top of lower-value load.
  • Return to Base – Get your robot back to your airfield safely before the end of the match. Returns bonus points.
  • Deliver Drones – Bonus: Deliver drones from the airfield to specific ground locations. Earns points.

VEX 5 encourages engineering creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving skills with this aviation theme. Student teams must engineer robots that lift and carry the planes without dropping or damaging them. Strategies for efficient cargo loading and delivery are needed. And, of course, programming is key for autonomous flight missions and managing all tasks.

VEX estimates it will take 100+ hours to master VEX 5. Let’s break down how to play and win.

How to Play VEX 5

Succeeding in VEX 5 requires robot design, programming, teamwork, and match strategy. Here is an in-depth look at key factors for competitive dominance.

Robot Chassis Design

The robot’s chassis provides the foundation for completing game challenges. Teams must craft sturdy yet manoeuvrable bots.

Several chassis options work well for VEX 5’s tasks:

Tank Drive

  • Uses two sets of wheels on either side of the robot
  • Manoeuvres via skid-steering, where the wheels spin at different speeds
  • Provides traction and pushing power for cargo goals

Holonomic Drive

  • It uses mecanum wheels at 45-degree angles for omnidirectional movement
  • Strafes side-to-side and diagonal directly
  • Quick positioning for planes and cargo goals

Hybrid Drive

  • Combines tank treads for traction with secondary swerve/mecanum wheels for manoeuvrability
  • Balances power with positioning precision

The chassis must have sufficient ground clearance to lift and carry planes regardless of the drive type. Extending arms are often used.

Teams optimize their chassis size to meet game objectives while remaining under weight restrictions. VEX 5 robots cannot exceed 20 lbs. Lighter robots, around 12-15 lbs, have better maneuverability.

Manipulators for Planes and Cargo

To move game objects, robots need specially designed manipulators and end effectors. Key options for VEX 5 include:


  • It uses pronged forks to lift underneath planes
  • Provides stability when lifting
  • Can integrate a sliding platform to pull planes in

Clamping Arms

  • Uses arms with clamping grippers to grab planes from above
  • Requires precise positioning over planes
  • Good for lifting and carrying

Conveyor Belt

  • Rotating rubber belt with retaining walls to control cargo
  • Can lift cargo into the robot
  • Easy to load quickly


  • Simple angled platforms to push cargo
  • Limited ability to lift/carry cargo
  • Requires backing into cargo

Teams can utilize more than one manipulator type to expand capabilities. The choice comes down to game strategy – how the robot needs to interact with each game element.

Programming for Tasks

VEX robots are programmed using the VEXcode blocks system based on Scratch Blocks. Students can program autonomous routines plus driving controls.

Here are key programming tasks for VEX 5 success:

Autonomous Missions

The 15-second autonomous period is critical for points. Programmers script routines independently:

  • Remove planes from the runway
  • Deliver planes to the hangar
  • Sort cargo values
  • Score drones

Smart autonomous programming gets a head start on match goals.

Control Systems

For the driver-controlled period, robots need programmed controls for:

  • Drivetrain – such as tank, arcade, or holonomic driving
  • Manipulators – graphs for the forklift, clamp, conveyors, etc.
  • Sensors – integrate encoders, cameras, inertial sensors, and rangefinders

Well-tuned controls allow drivers to operate multiple mechanisms simultaneously smoothly.

Expanded Functionality

Advanced programmers can integrate special features like:

  • Dynamic path planning for cargo sorting
  • Machine vision for plane and cargo recognition
  • Motor automation for launching planes on takeoff

This expands the robot’s capabilities beyond driver limitations.

With thoughtful programming, teams can create robots that operate at a very high level autonomously and when controlled.

Match Strategy and Driver Skills

Even with a well-designed robot, teams need strong match strategies and capable drivers.


Alliances of two teams let robots collaborate to maximize points. Particularly useful combos include:

  • Plane specialist + cargo specialist
  • Holonomic robot + high grip robot
  • Autonomous focused + driver-focused

Teams coordinate which objectives each will focus on.

Match Role Assignment

Pilot roles are assigned to make the most of drivers’ abilities:

  • Plane handler – grabs, lifts, and delivers planes
  • Cargo manager – controls the cargo and loading
  • Support – assists other robots, scores drones, blocks opponents

Spreading the workload helps matches run more smoothly.

Driver Practice

Extensive driving practice develops critical skills:

  • Fine manipulator control
  • Planning paths efficiently
  • Collaborating with alliance partners
  • Avoiding field hazards

Skilled drivers can adapt on the fly to changing situations.

Game Awareness

Keeping match awareness ups efficiency:

  • Tracking match time
  • Monitoring all robots’ locations
  • Noting scored points
  • Recognizing strategic opportunities

This helps identify and capitalize on key moments.

With well-honed team strategies and drivers, teams can optimize match performance. Coordination and adaptability are vital.

VEX 5 Game Analysis and Strategies

Let’s dive deeper into the game design and key strategic insights for competing in VEX 5.

Game Object Breakdown

Understanding the game elements’ physical properties and point values helps identify strategic priorities.

  • Planes
  • Made of foam and plastic
  • Approx. 14″ x 11″ x 5″ and 1 lb
  • Durability varies by plane model
  • Takeoff: 10-20 points each
  • Landing: 20-40 points each

Max points per match: 160-240

Lightweight with high point values makes planes the top priority. They are also the trickiest to manipulate.

  • Cargo
  • 18″ nylon cubes, 8 oz each
  • Marked with coloured point values
  • Low: 10-20 points
  • Mid: 30-40 points
  • High: 50-60 points

Max points per match: ~240

Cargo offers big scoring via stacking. Quick loading is key.

  • Drones
  • Small cubes weigh 2 oz
  • 10-15 points each

Max points per match: 40-60

Drones are a nice bonus but not a main focus.

Analyzing these attributes points teams toward plane-heavy strategies for maximum gains.

Autonomous Period Priorities

The opening 15 seconds is prime time to accomplish as much as possible without interference.

  • Takeoff Prep

Use starting positions immediately:

  • Align with planes on the runway
  • Lower manipulators into the takeoff position
  • Move any blocking cargo

This preps for instant plane grabs when autonomous starts.

  • Early Takeoff

Program robots to rapidly:

  • Grab 1-2 planes from the runway
  • Lift planes fully into the air
  • Start moving planes toward the hangar

Grabbing planes before opponents can block is huge. This alone can earn ~50-100 points.

  • Cargo Stacking

Some robots can multitask cargo and planes:

  • Quickly scoop up ground cargo
  • Begin stacking by value on the robot
  • Position next to the loading zone

It’s an efficient way to gain cargo points.

Optimizing just the first 15 seconds with takeoffs and cargo can win matches. The priority is points that opponents can only steal once.

Driver Period Strategies

With robots now battling in close quarters, matches often come down to the driver period. Here are winning strategies.

  • Maintain Plane Focus

Continue lifting and delivering planes:

  • Fully remove the remaining planes from the runway
  • Transport safely to the hangar
  • Avoid plane collisions or drops

Planes remain the top point values. Minimize any losses.

  • Leverage Alliances

Work with alliance partners to:

  • Run coordinated plane/cargo roles
  • Protect each other’s planes
  • Combine stack cargo loads
  • Cover more field space

Alliances that communicate and strategize have an edge.

  • Cargo Loading

Stack cargo in planes by coordinating:

  • Ground scraper feeding lower value cubes
  • Loader locking higher cubes from robot stash
  • Plane transport between loader and airfield

This efficient assembly line maximizes loaded plane values.

  • Defence

In close matches, defence is necessary:

  • Block opponents from reaching key field areas
  • Distract drivers with feints
  • Dislodge opponents’ cargo stacks
  • Protect alliance partners

A little disruption of enemies can make a difference.

  • Hangers and Helipads

Don’t neglect the endgame:

  • Save time for safe plane landing in hangars
  • Bonus points for precise helipad landing
  • Park the robot fully in the airfield for return points

This extra 10-30 sec effort pays off.

Following these tips will help optimize match performance from beginning to end.

Top VEX 5 Robots

Let’s look at some of the standout robots that have already emerged in the early VEX 5 season. Analyzing the top designs gives great ideas for developing a competitive robot.

Team Triple Helix (USA)

This robot from Triple Helix in Ohio excels at rapid, autonomous plane takeoff.

Team Triple Helix robot – Image from Robotevents


  • Tank drive chassis with mecanum wheels for strafing
  • Elevator lift with clamping arms that lock planes in place
  • Forks on the front for bonus cargo goals
  • Autonomous routine takes off two planes in just 6 seconds!

They consistently gain an early advantage by focusing on quick autonomous plane scoring.

Team ORIG (Singapore)

This compact but versatile bot comes from ORIG Robotics in Singapore.

Team ORIG robot – Image from


  • Holonomic drivetrain for smooth omnidirectional movement
  • Integrated plane forklift with 180-degree rotating lift
  • Front cargo scoop arm
  • Programming enables switching between cargo and plane tasks

The holonomic design allows them to navigate the field and interact precisely from any angle.

Team Celestial (USA)

Celestial Robotics from California went with a novel hanging forklift design.

Team Celestial robot – Image from @CelestialRobotix


  • Tank drive chassis
  • Horizontal forklift arm suspends from vertical lift
  • Allows planes to be carried safely underneath
  • The forklift rotates 180 degrees
  • Cargo scoop integrated in front

Suspending the plane forklift protects against drops while allowing driving and cargo manipulation simultaneously.

These winning examples showcase creative innovations top teams are exploring this VEX 5 season. Feel free to experiment with radical new concepts to gain an edge.

Getting Started with VEX 5

For those excited to dive into the VEX 5 challenge, here are helpful tips for building your competitive robot.

Join or Start a VEX Robotics Team

Get involved through:

  • Existing school teams
  • Community youth robotics clubs
  • 4H, Boys and Girls Clubs, scouting organizations
  • Homeschool groups
  • Start a new team at your school or independently

Check the VEX Robotics team directory to find programs in your area.

Get the VEX 5 Starter Kit

Purchase the VEX Robotics Starter Kit which contains the following:

  • Metal structural pieces
  • Motors and parts for the drivetrain
  • Microcontroller and programming software
  • Tools, battery, charger
  • Guidebook and build instructions

This has everything needed to start building. Available for $749 on the VEX Robotics site.

Review Game Info and Rules

Read the full VEX 5 game description and rules manual available at VEX Robotics. This covers vital game details and constraints that will guide robot design.

Watch game matches online to visualize real event flow and robot interactions.

Brainstorm and Prototype Robot Designs

Develop your robot on paper first:

  • Analyze key game actions needed
  • Sketch drivetrain ideas
  • Plan potential manipulators

Build rough prototypes to test concepts using spare materials. Refine the best ideas.

Iteratively improve designs over multiple prototypes.

Build, Program, and Test Robot

Use the finalized designs to build the competition robot, following the official build rules.

Program all mechanisms and autonomous behaviours in VEXcode. Extensively tune and refine programs.

Test the full robot under match conditions:

  • Place on the practice field with game elements
  • Run through drills and simulations
  • Identify and correct issues

Repeat until the robot runs flawlessly.

Drive Practice and Match Strategy

Pilot teams must become experts at controlling the robot:

  • Practice intensive driving of all functions
  • Coordinate with teammates on alliances
About author


Phillip Zakas, a game developer with deep knowledge and insight into gaming, brings his expertise and skills to the Sobat Gaming team.
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