Heat: Pedal to the Metal
- Designers: Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen
- Publisher: Days of Wonder
- Players: 1-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 45-60 minutes per race
- Played with review copy provided by DoW at SPIEL 2022
Heat: Pedal to the Metal was at the top of my most anticipated games from SPIEL 2022. One, it’s from Days of Wonder, and that is one of the publishers that has consistently made games that are just my speed. Second, H:PttM is the spiritual successor to Flamme Rouge, one of my favorite cycling games of all time – and one which I rekindled my love for after playing it this summer (while watching the Tour de France on TV at the same time).
This game “puts players in the driver’s seat of intense car races, jockeying for position to cross the finish line first, while managing their car’s speed if they don’t want to overheat. Selecting the right upgrades for their car will help them hug the curves and keep their engine cool enough to maintain top speeds. Ultimately, their driving skills will be the key to victory! Drivers can compete in a single race or use the “Championship System” to play a whole season in one game night, customizing their car before each race to claim the top spot of the podium. They have to be careful as the weather, road conditions, and events will change every race to spice up their championship. Players can also enjoy a solo mode with the Legends Module or add automated drivers as additional opponents in multiplayer games.”
To start playing the game, choose your desired track (4 are included in the box) and place it on the table. Each player takes a player board, car, gear pawn, and deck of 12 Speed cards and 3 Starting Upgrade cards in their color. They also look at the info under the track name to see how many Heat and Stress cards they should take. The Speed, Starting Upgrade and 2 stress cards are shuffled into a deck and placed on the left slot. A starting hand of 7 cards is dealt from this. The allotted Heat cards are placed in the middle slot. Your pawn is placed in first gear. All of the player cards are placed near the start line in a random fashion.
The game is played in a number of rounds – until the race is over. In each round, a series of 9 steps are played, all nicely summarized at the top of the player board. Four of the phases are done by all players each round (1,2, 3 and 9) while there are 5 which only apply in certain situations. The first two phases are done simultaneously, and then 3-9 are done one player at a time as each finishes their turn. The car in the lead goes first, followed by the other cars based on their running order.
1] Shift Gears – All players decide to shift gears. It is free to stay the same or move up or down one gear. It will cost you a Heat to move two positions in one turn. Any time you must pay Heat, you must move it from your Heat stack on your engine into your discard pile. Heat cards don’t do anything in your hand, they simply reduce your options. You can remove the Heat cards by Cooling Down (see phase 5)
2] Play Cards – play as many cards as your current gear setting; for now put them facedown near you.
3] Reveal and Play – Now, you reveal your cards to determine your speed for the turn. Add up the numbers on your played cards to determine your speed. You will move your car forward a number of spaces equal to your sum. You may move thru spaces occupied by other cars but you may not end your movement on a space with another car; in that case you must stop on the first free space behind the car(s). If you have played a Stress card – representing lapses in driver concentration – you must now flip up cards from the top of your deck until you get a Speed card – all non-Speed cards are simply discarded. Thus, each Stress card means a random value of 1 to 4 added to your Speed.
4] Adrenaline – if you are in last place (or last 2 places in a 5+ player game), you may add 1 extra speed before or after your Boost. You also gain an additional Cooldown.
5] React – activate any symbols you have access to (Cooldown, Boost) in any order you want. To Cooldown, take a Heat card from your hand and place it back into your draw pile of Heat cards in your engine. You earn Cooldown icons from driving in first gear (3 cooldowns) or second gear (1 cooldown). To Boost, you can pay 1 Heat to flip the top card of your draw deck and move your car accordingly. If you Boost, the added amount DOES add to your Speed value for the turn
6] Slipstream – if you end your movement directly behind or directly next to another car, you can choose to slingshot ahead an additional 2 spaces. This does not increase your Speed value for the turn.
7] Check Corner – If you have traversed a corner on the course, you check to see if your speed exceeds the Speed Limit of the corner (written on the board, in a speedometer icon somewhere around the apex). If your speed is higher than the limit, pay Heat equal to the difference between the limit and your Speed. If you do not have enough Heat, then you spin out. You move your car back to the first available space before the corner where you spun, take extra stress cards and move back to first gear.
8] Discard – you can optionally discard cards, but you may never discard Stress nor Heat cards.
9] Replenish Hand – draw cards to bring your hand back up to 7 cards
Players go in race order to complete phases 3-9. When all players have finished, play another round. This continues until someone has finished the race – by crossing the finish line of the appointed lap. If multiple cars pass the line, the one which is the furthest wins. If two cars are on the same level, the one on the racing line wins.
My thoughts on the game
Well, I was predisposed to like this based on my love of the predecessor, and H:PttM definitely met my expectations. Sure, the game is actually quite different, and the mechanisms are deftly shifted to meet the different events of a car race. They share the use of the deck of cards and some of the concepts feel similar – but otherwise, they are each definitely their own game.
The rules are elegant, with the bulk of the rules coming in just 3 pages of the slim 8 page rulebook. Once the rules are learned, the little reminder at the top of the player board is all that most gamers will need to keep them on track. Once the base game is mastered, you can move onto the advanced rules which introduce upgrade cards to allow you to customize your car via a drafting system before the race begins. You can also add Legends (automated cars that race against you), Weather/Road Conditions, and even play through one of three championship seasons. You can even combine those seasons to make a grand 10-race campaign.
For me, the hand management part of the game is fascinating. You really need to remember which cards you have already played in the deck, and what might be coming. Also, you can trying to manipulate when to take risks and add heat cards to your hand/deck, and when you might be able to get rid of those pesky heat cards as well. For sure, as you downshift to get into a tight curve, you’ll get a chance to shed some of those unwanted cards.
Trying to decide on the relative risk of a Boost is one of the best parts of the game for me… Also, moreso than Flamme Rouge – you get a random hand of cards, but as they cycle through your deck, it’s up to you to decide how/when to play them. You have much more agency over the use of the cards.
The race circuits are well thought out, and each one has a distinct feel to it. You have to approach each one to master the different turns, speed zones, etc. I also really like the way that gamers can take risks (and be punished/rewarded accordingly) with the turns, using both clever card play as well as judicious use of the drafting rules. Moreso than with Flamme Rouge, it really feels like you can make big moves on the board here.
The components are really well designed. The graphic design definitely pulls you back in time to the 1960s era. The art is beautiful, and it is perhaps one of the best parts of the game. The boards have a lot of information on them, but all of the different bits are right where your brain expects them to be – and as a result, gameplay is quite smooth. The player boards look like a racecar cockpit, and the player aid is cleverly found at the top of this board in the “gauges”.
The basic rules are really quite easy to learn and absorb. A few people have gotten stuck on the whole boost idea but otherwise people really pick up on this fast. The game itself moves around nice and fast with most turns taking between 30 and 60 seconds. As the cars get closer to tight curves, there might be a bit more thinking, especially when trying to figure out whether to boost or not .
Overall the games are short enough (2 laps) to never make the game feel stale. While there are some catchup mechanisms in place, just like in real life, there are some races you just know you’re not going to win. Here, the game length is short enough that you just do your best, but you’re not going to be watching the action happen in front of you for hours…
And while I love the basic game, there is much more in the box to explore. There are Legends cars which add AI driven cars to the game to give you more competition (and more cars to draft off of…). The elegance of this system also merits its own review later! You can also add a bit of chance to the game by adding in the Weather module. You can increase the deckbuilding aspect of the game by bringing in the upgrade cards which will give you a more individualized strategy. And, of course, you can string together a series of races in a championship format to bring a more longitudinal sense to your games – and have a championship series play out one race each week in your game group!
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson (17 races in just over 5 weeks): This is a keeper. Full stop.
Recommendation: after your first race, play a solo game using the Legends expansion so you can learn how it works. Then, always race with a full contingent of cars using the Legends expansion, regardless of the number of players. The extra cars on the track are worth the VERY small hassle of running them.
We’ve also played two of the three “seasons” (using the Upgrade, Weather, and Road Conditions modules)… and they don’t make the game much more complicated but they certainly mess with your expectations of the best way to race a particular track. (We’ve had a corner with a maximum speed of one. Yikes.)
Tery N (not nearly as many plays as Mark Jackson) I do in general like racing games, so was not surprised when I got this for Christmas, since it was getting a lot of buzz. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much strategy is packed into this particular game. It reminds me of Das Motorspiel, a game that I love but only get to play once a year; it has some similar elements, but is more portable and quicker to set up. I’ve only played with the Legends cars, and I agree that it works well. This would be easy to teach to just about any group, and enjoyable to anyone who enjoys a good race game.
Ben B I have just one play at the basic game but I thought the teach was not complicated or very long. Most of the racers stayed very close together and it came down to cards on the final turn. I enjoyed myself but I felt like the last turn was perhaps 50% preparation and 50% luck, the latter diminishing the fun a little bit for me.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y, Mark J, ted c., Tery N
- I like it. John P, Ben B
- Neutral. Eric M, Simon N
- Not for me…
My feelings align with Ben’s. I am always so-so on racing games, but continue to try them. I find this is one of the better auto racing games, but it does have a large element of luck involved.
I’ve been enjoying this game a lot lately, but I keep thinking of El Dorado as I play it. And the truth is, I would rather play El Dorado if I want to play a race game. Heat is great, but El Dorado is more fun for me. More variety, more interesting plays. In Heat you are essentially just controlling your speed. It would be like El Dorado only having one lane of hexes from beginning to end. Still fun, but not better, in my mind, than what Knizia created.
I played this solo the first time to understand the rules. I was so-so on the game, but I played it with 4 other racers this weekend and I love it.
I really pushed my luck on one turn, where only drawing the 4 card would hurt me (and there was only one left in the deck). But that was pushing my luck too hard and I ended up spinning out after crossing a curve with a limit of 3 while moving at 9. On the second lap, I ended up in a similar situation (except there were 2 fours left but also most of my deck) but I really needed something to get me back in the race and it couldn’t happen twice in the same game, right? Well, you might as well fail spectacularly. I made for good laughs, at least.
Even with that, I love the game. I knew I was taking a risk with either a big payoff or a big failure, so I can’t blame luck.
The rules for Heat are perfect to get Speed Circuit out of the closet and have the same experience for next to no cost. All of those extra tracks etc. Love it.