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Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a tabletop racing masterpiece

Few games are more fun, fast, or furious

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Clayton Ashley , senior video editor, has been producing and editing videos for Polygon since 2016. He is the lead producer of the tabletop gaming series Overboard.

There are many board games with great themes, and many board games with great mechanics, but it’s rare for a game to marry the two together in perfect harmony. Heat: Pedal to the Metal is one of those games, and if you can manage to find it on store shelves, you won’t be disappointed. The game uses light deck-building to capture the thrill of racing so viscerally that we found it hard to stop after just one race.

In a game of Heat, players spend every turn making choices that feel impactful — and critically, fun. A deck full of speed cards determines how far you’ll go each round. You can also use “stress” cards to travel a random number of spaces — a risky maneuver that can pay off for daring racers. Then there are the titular “heat” cards, which represent how hard you’re pushing your engine. Managing this heat well allows you to blaze through corners and boost past opponents, but push things too far, and you’ll spin out!

While it’s possible to stake out an insurmountable lead, more often than not, the game’s elegant mechanics keep the race close. Players can “slipstream” past other players, giving an advantage to those who aren’t in first, while “adrenaline” gives last place an extra boost. Together, these keep first place in check, and the race close right up until the checkered flags is waved. It’s not unusual for players to trade the lead around throughout a race, and on more than one occasion, we witnessed the last-place driver leap into first in a single well-played turn.

It’s a pleasurable game to play, but even more impressive is just how much stuff is packed in the box. The game includes four racing tracks, components for up to six players, and a host of advanced modules you can add as your skills improve: car upgrades, weather conditions, media to impress, sponsorships, an AI mode, and a multi-race tournament system.

You can watch our playthrough in the video above, where we are joined by Byrd Pinkerton, F1 aficionado and Vox Media podcast producer on Unexplainable! If you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out the rest of our Let’s Play videos over on our YouTube channel.

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