Heat: Pedal to the Metal is extraordinary. It’s a tabletop racing game with real breakneck speed. The designers do this through both good deck-building mechanics and clever mechanics that accelerate the actual play process. In fact, Heat may be the best racing board game ever designed.
The setting here is a 1960s Grand Prix, and clever hand management is at the heart of the design. Each player secretly selects a subset of hands to play for moves each round. The number of cards you play is limited by your current gear. So for 2nd gear he plays 2 cards and for 3rd gear he plays 3 cards. When you add up the card values, that’s the number of spaces your little car will orbit. Want to go further? Then you can shift into a higher gear and play more cards to tear your way through.
Corners ruin everything and act as speed bumps. You should slow down and downshift. Each corner is marked with a maximum speed number that can be passed without penalty. Speed is the total number of spaces you are moving in that turn.
You can push your car around corners without having to hit the brakes. This comes at the expense of the heat of the title. Blowing through corners or revving the engine after a move to boost some extra space puts some heat into the deck. These cards are functionally dead and cannot be used or even discarded once they are in your hand. Instead, if you want the exhaust out the deck, you’ll need to slow down and let the engine cool.
In short, this system is great. It’s simple, but it forces you to make tactical and strategic decisions. You have to evaluate your hand, your current gear, your position on the track, and even the rest of your deck composition. Heat is a resource that is used rather than completely ignored. Smashing through corners and ripping your vehicle apart might be the right tactic, but timing is key.
When the heat builds up, there is a certain amount of tension because you know that the cards in your discard pile will go into the draw deck and finally into your hand. Your car feels so fragile that it could break at any moment. At some point you’ll need to loosen the pedals, but if you can time that moment to occur near the corner, you won’t lose the chance to make a big profit on the straights.
Raising and releasing heat makes the act of deck building fluid and engaging. Heat, which acts as a burden to deal with later, also obfuscates a racer’s current stats, much like hidden victory points in other games. Simply leading the herd doesn’t mean the car is actually in an enviable position. It’s fascinating how simple and smooth deck management as a tactical process is.
Despite its streamlined play, Heat’s biggest obstacle is the learning experience. It’s a simple enough game, but it may take a few rounds to internalize the process. The flow is partially obfuscated by the player board and has a poor set of iconography representing the phases. However, after one lap, most drivers can comfortably get behind the wheel and loosen up.
There is tremendous momentum here. It’s shown through card play, but it’s equally expressed through some physical and procedural flourishes. . It’s half the game, plotted and solved in minutes with very little downtime.
Another smart touch that speeds up the typically soft moments of racing games is the numbering of spaces. This will tell you how far you are from the next corner. This means you don’t have to keep counting spots on your board for planning or when actually moving your plastic car. It’s all very fast and agile, and folds into Heat’s strong pace of play to build that sense of speed.
My biggest criticism is about Heat’s lack of authenticity. The atmosphere of 60’s auto racing is solidly recreated, but the simulation is a bit lacking. This is seen when cars in higher gears move more slowly than cars in lower gears when drivers play a number of cards of lower value in a round. This is also evident in the catch-up mechanism. The game totally gives the last place car a bonus move and writes it off as “Adrenaline”.
Additionally, the slipstream is a key factor, allowing additional space to slide if you exit a turn adjacent to another vehicle. This works to model the core elements of the sport. but mainly it helps the car back farther so that it can bounce forward. This may be frustrating for some, as contestants tend to crowd around each other, but it always results in dramatic moments vying for position. It’s not impossible to burst in front of the herd with a powerful play.
If that’s the whole heat, that’s enough. But it’s not. This work not only cleverly captures the Grand Prix race, but also feels full of content. It comes with two folding double-sided trucks that present different tactical challenges. Some modules are also included to confuse the rules. With weather effects, changing road conditions, and even his AI-controlled opponents, it can fill a low player count or be played as a solo board game. But Heat really lives up to its potential in Championship mode.
This is league play embarking on a series of three races. Points are earned based on final standings, with the winner being the person with the most possessions at the end of the third track. This approach mimics the stripped-down career mode of popular sports titles like Madden. Add new cards to your deck by actually modifying your car for each race. The number of upgrade options is huge, resulting in asymmetrical builds and cars with authentic personalities and identities. Plus, you can earn short-term rewards from sponsors for showing off on the track and performing daring maneuvers. There are so many options that it feels like Days of Wonder has delivered the game with a very effective extension built in.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal is great. Designers Asger Granerud and Daniel Pederson’s outstanding card system comes as a revision of their previous hit bike racing title. Fulham RougeIt’s a great game on its own, but it’s not Heat. The masterful capture of motion at the heart of the genre is an endless achievement. Combine this with a complete and complete product like this and you have an absolute champion.