On the Table – Heat: Pedal to the Metal takes pole position

Posted on March 27, 2024

Heat: Pedal to the Metal aims to bring the thrill of the race track and the smell of burning rubber to your board game table. The idea of an intense race track doesn’t necessarily link to the perhaps more laid-back pace of tabletop gaming, but conceptually speaking, Heat manages to take the Grand Prix idea and turn it into a compelling, exciting and at times dangerous competitive experience, avoiding burnouts and maximising acceleration so that you’re first across the finish line.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal delivers on its premise strongly, with simple actions that keep gameplay moving quickly as you move your small adorable car across various tracks around the world. Heat is a deck-builder at heart, as you try to ensure your hand is full of cards that can help propel you forward as quickly as possible with higher numbers. Whichever gear you’re in (from 1-4), that’s the number of cards you must play when it’s your turn. That might make it seem easy to try and simply fill your deck with high-number cards that allow you to move further along the track, but other factors come into play to prevent it from being a matter of “highest hand wins”.

Each track is different (there are four included on two giant double-sided boards), with different corners of varying angles that need to be tackled. Much like in real racing, you’ll need to slow down your acceleration to ensure you can take the corner without spinning out. This is managed via Heat cards, that sit in your engine and have to be added to your deck as a sort of penalty for accelerating too fast too quickly, or for taking those corners too fast. How you use Heat, and how often you use it, can have a real impact on how successful you are on the track.

“How you use Heat, and how often you use it, can have a real impact on how successful you are on the track.”

An extra element is Stress cards, which when played force you to draw the top card from your deck and play it instantly. They live up to the name; the risk versus reward nature of not knowing which number you’ll draw next could make for a satisfying sprint on a large straight, or a devastating spin-out if it forces you to go through a curve unprepared.

There are ways to cool down your engine if there is too much Heat in your hand, and other mechanics make for extra layers of strategy; slipstreaming, any racing fan will tell you, allows you to use the speed of the driver in front of you to boost yourself forward, and that’s here too, making for some cheeky overtakes and fun battles for first place.

Moving your cars around the track when it’s your turn, and jockeying for first position is very satisfying. With races taking two laps, there’s plenty of room for exciting comebacks, with corners, in particular, forcing everybody to slow down. In the games we have played so far, they’ve always ended up close, even with some dramatic spin-outs. The base game in and of itself is very easy to learn, and the concepts of cars and racing are universal enough that it has a very pick-up-and-play nature that shouldn’t be overwhelming for newcomers, either.

For those seeking a bit more of a challenge, Heat comes with extra modules to make things more complicated. The Weather module applies specific conditions to portions of the track, for example removing the ability to cool down your engine for a stretch, or allowing you to boost without paying a cost for doing so. The Garage module allows you to add more car parts into your deck, with a lot of modifiers, bonuses, stress and speed choices to mix things up.

The Legends module adds extra AI drivers to the board as additional components, and there’s even a Championship module if you want to string together multiple races as a sort of mini-campaign. I really like that all of these modules are included in the box; it instantly made us eager to modify our game and play another race, and as experienced board gamers, the modules give an extra edge to make it a more tactical experience.

With each race proving to be competitive and riveting, Heat: Pedal to the Metal has already secured itself as a regular choice for our board game nights. With a simple rule set and well-made components that are very readable, it’s a game that is easy to teach without being too complicated, and the “race to the finish line” objective puts it firmly in The Quest for El Dorado territory in terms of its potential for nail-biting conclusions.

Add in some clever modules that enhance things for more experienced players, and it’s easy to recommend Heat, with a generous amount of content straight out of the box and a lot of replayability.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is available now in all good board game stores. Thanks to VR Distribution for providing a copy for this review.