Game: Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Release Year: 2022

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Designers: Asger Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen

Player Count: 1 to 6 players

Play Time: About 60 minutes

Rules Complexity: Moderate

Jump down to review score

No other board game released in 2022 was—or continues to be—as popular, hyped, and enduring as Heat: Pedal to the Metal. Two years later, it's continually out of stock (at least here in the United States) and still as sought-after as ever.

Going off the BGG "number of ratings" metric, Heat: Pedal to the Metal has about as many ratings as the second and third most popular games of that year (i.e., Flamecraft and Splendor Duel). Yeah, this game truly is hot.

But why? What is it that sets this game apart, not just from other racing board games but most board games period? Is it really that good?

Here's everything you need to know about Heat: Pedal to the Metal, how it plays, my experiences with it, and the factors you should consider if you're thinking of adding this game to your own board game collection.

This review is based on my own personal copy of Heat: Pedal to the Metal, which I bought new from Boardlandia. Not a free review copy.


Though on the surface it's themed as a racing game, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is really a hand management card game. Depending on how you play your cards, you'll drive your car forward on the board and possibly cause some other effects, too.

Every player starts with their own personal deck of cards, with each deck of cards being identical (unless you incorporate the Garage Module, which allows each player to slightly customize their decks with advanced cards).

In Heat: Pedal to the Metal, cards fall into three broad categories:

  • Speed cards have numbers that denote how far your car moves along the racing track. If you play multiple Speed cards, the total is cumulative.
  • Stress cards force you to keep drawing from the top of your personal draw pile until you reveal a valid Speed card. In essence, Stress cards introduce uncertainty while also providing a way to cycle through your deck faster.
  • Heat cards don't do anything and clog up your hand. The only way to get rid of them is through the game's Cooldown mechanism, which mainly happens when you're driving in First or Second Gear.

You draw your hand back up to seven cards every turn, and then choose which cards to play. The number of cards you play is equal to your current Gear—if you're in First Gear, you play one card, if you're in Second Gear, you play two cards, etc. (You can freely shift Gears at the start of every turn.)

All players choose their cards at the same time, but turns are resolved in racing order: whoever's in the lead goes first, then whoever's behind them, etc.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

The high-level overview of Heat: Pedal to the Metal is rather straightforward, but there are some extra gameplay elements that kick it up a notch.

Slipstreaming is one of the game's signature mechanisms, where you get a free boost of two spaces if you finish your turn next to or directly behind another player. Not only is this a catch-up mechanism that's rooted in real-life physics (i.e., aerodynamics), but it's an element that you can strategize around.

Corners are another huge element of gameplay. You aren't just racing around the track at top speed! In fact, the track winds and curves at various points, and these corners have speed limits on them. If you blow past them too quickly, your car gets stressed—and big penalties await if you stress your car too much.

Optionally, you can also incorporate the Weather and Road Conditions Module that alters the gameplay in various ways across different segments of the track.

All in all, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a race around the track—usually two laps but that might change depending on the map—to see who can cross the finish line first. If multiple players cross the finish line in the same round, then whoever makes it the furthest past the finish line is the winner!

Setup and Table Footprint

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is easy to unpack and set up, encouraged by the nifty box insert that helps keep everything organized and ready to go.

The first thing you do is pick one of the four included maps. Then, each player takes their respective Car pawn, Gear Shift pawn, player mat, and starting deck. Based on the chosen map, each player adds some number of Heat and Stress cards to their deck, then shuffles it up. And you're ready to go!

The base game takes 2 to 4 minutes to prepare, with a few extra minutes if you're playing with the Garage Module (as there are three rounds of card drafting).

My biggest disappointment with Heat: Pedal to the Metal is the amount of table space needed. Even if you intend to play solo, you're going to need room!

A big chunk of that is due to the giant map boards, with each map coming in at a size of 31.5 inches by 21 inches. That's larger than most game boards. (For reference, a Monopoly board is 19.5 inches by 19.5 inches. Even Ticket to Ride's board comes in a tad smaller at 30.5 inches by 20.5 inches.)

It wouldn't be so bad if Heat: Pedal to the Metal was played entirely on the board, but each player also has their own player mat to deal with. The player mat is about 11 inches by 7.5 inches, so not small by any means.

And then if you choose to play with the Championship System or the Legends Module (Bots), each one also has its own mat that needs to be displayed on the table. (These mats are the same size as the player mats.)

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is, surprisingly, a table hog.

Learning Curve

A lot of people praise Heat: Pedal to the Metal for being an accessible, family-friendly game that could serve well as a gateway game for non-gamers. However, in my experience, the game can actually be a tad tricky to grasp.

As I mentioned above in the overview, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is indeed straightforward in terms of high-level concept. You play cards that drive your car forward on the track. Rinse and repeat until someone wins.

But there are two aspects that can trip you up:

First, each turn involves multiple phases to resolve where your car finally ends up, and understanding these phases can be hard if you aren't a gamer. (Yes, the player mat shows you the order of turn phases, but it's still far from intuitive. In fact, it can be frustrating and overwhelming for non-gamers.)

Second, if you want to play with even a modicum of strategy, you need to understand how all the mechanisms interact. At a minimum, that means you need to grasp the ideas of Slipstreaming, Corners, Heat, and Cooldown (and Heat in particular can be hard to grasp as far as what it does and how to play around it).

Is Heat: Pedal to the Metal a good pick for board gaming newbies? I don't think so. It's more advanced than the likes of Ticket to Ride, The Quest for El Dorado, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, and Cascadia. It's about on par with Clank!, The Isle of Cats, and Flamecraft as far as learning curve is concerned.

Game Experience

Decision Space

The strategic depth in Heat: Pedal to the Metal is somewhat subtle. There's a good amount of luck involved (more on that below), but there's also a lot you can do to influence your luck and come out ahead over the course of an entire race.

The main decision is "Which cards am I going to play?" The flip side to this, of course, is "Which cards am I going to keep?" Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a hand management game, which means managing which cards are available in your hand so you can adequately tackle future situations, while also using your cards at the right time to have the biggest impact and prevent falling behind.

For this, you do have to think ahead to future turns. If you see a long stretch of track coming up, you might want to reserve your big Speed Cards and spend as many small Speed Cards as you can. If a tight Corner is coming up, you might do the opposite.

You also want to mentally track the cards in your deck. On most maps, you play with a personal deck of 24 cards (i.e., 15 Starter Cards, 3 Stress Cards, and 6 Heat Cards). As you go through your deck, you know which cards haven't shown up yet, so you can use that knowledge to inform your decisions.

If you know you have a bunch of Heat Cards left to draw, you might decide to play your Stress Cards so you can cycle through your deck. But if you have a lot of Speed Cards left in your deck, you might hold off on the Stress Cards because there's a lot of uncertainty around what you'll end up drawing.

Gear management informs hand management. Your current Gear determines how many cards you must play in a given turn. This creates a kind of turn-by-turn puzzle where you need to figure out the best combination of cards to play to achieve what you want within the requirements of your current Gear.

Higher Gears allow you to play more Speed Cards to zoom down the track, but make it tougher to take Corners without blowing past their Speed Limits. Lower Gears limit how many Speed Cards you can play, but allow you to "cooldown" your engine and discard Heat Cards that are clogging up your hand.

Additionally, you can only shift your Gear up or down by 1 every turn (or 2 if you're willing to add a Heat Card), so you have to think ahead and make sure you end up in the right Gear to make full use of your hand on crucial turns.

Proper management of Heat Cards is key to playing your best. As a beginner, you might think Heat Cards are "bad" and to be avoided at all cost. In actuality, Heat Cards are a resource that let you make critical maneuvers as long as you find a way to Cooldown and get rid of them in the future.

In other words, you can think of Heat Cards as a loan against yourself: in exchange for making a big move now, you're burdening your future self to figure out a way to shed those Heat Cards that will eventually find their way into your hand.

So, you want to acquire Heat Cards. If you don't, you aren't pushing your car to its limits and you aren't making full use of its potential. You just have to make sure you leave enough potential Heat Cards to make the right big moves at the right times.

Luck Factor

Any game that involves constantly shuffling and drawing cards is going to be lucky to some degree. In Heat: Pedal to the Metal, your options on any given turn are limited by the cards you happen to have in your hand.

You always have a hand of 7 cards and you must play a number of cards equal to your current Gear (i.e., between 1 and 4 cards), so you're never really starved for options. You might not have what you need to make optimal plays every turn, but you're rarely caught out so badly that you're forced to make a "bad" turn.

However, over the course of a race, you may find your hand getting clogged up with Heat Cards and Stress Cards. Heat Cards are useless and can only be discarded through Cooldowns, while Stress Cards are unreliable so you may not want to play them—and for every turn you don't, they remain in hand.

This effectively shrinks your hand size, which makes you more vulnerable to the luck of the draw. In other words, proper management of Heat Cards and Stress Cards is key to mitigating luck as much as possible.

There's also the Slipstreaming mechanism, which isn't inherently lucky but does inject a lot of unpredictability into Heat: Pedal to the Metal—so much so that, in practice, it actually does feel like a hefty dose of luck.

Why is Slipstreaming lucky? Well, Slipstreaming happens when you land in a spot directly behind or next to another player. When that happens, you move an extra two spots forward as a sort of free boost. The problem is that you never know ahead of time if you're going to Slipstream or not!

Every round, cards are played simultaneously in hidden fashion. You have to play your cards blind, not knowing how the other players are going to move. (You might be able to infer or predict what they might do based on their current Gear, but it's ultimately guesswork.) Then, every player's movement is resolved in order of their current position on the track, from front to back.

In other words, at the time you play your cards, it's impossible to know where players are going to be—and if you don't know where they're going to be, you can't possibly foresee where you need to go in order to land a Slipstream.

If your movement does happen to land you next to or behind another player, it feels random. You didn't plan it, you didn't foresee it, at best you merely hoped for it. When Slipstreaming happens, it doesn't feel earned or satisfying.

It feels lucky and out of your control. Because of this, Heat: Pedal to the Metal won't be a satisfying experience for anyone who loves control and determinism in their board games. Slipstreaming provides an unpredictability that keeps the race interesting up to the very end, but it somewhat robs the game of meaningful strategy.

Fun Factor

Heat: Pedal to the Metal is an engaging, enjoyable way to pass the time, but I'm not sure I'd call it "fun." For me, a game is fun when there are high moments, low moments, and up-and-down swings that clearly have an impact.

In one sense, every round of Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a big swing for everyone because positions shift around all the time. Jockeying for position is the name of the game here, and you could potentially go from front of the pack to back of the pack in a single turn. (Not often, but it's possible.)

Yet, at the same time, it's not a big deal to fall behind because you know it's temporary. You know that you might land a Slipstream next turn that propels you to the front again. You know that just because you're in the lead right now doesn't mean you'll maintain it. You know it's an ever-changing, chaotic mess.

There's no thrill to pulling ahead because it's transient. There's no threat to falling behind because it's transient. There's no excitement to "pulling off a big move" because, first, it's hard to know if what you've done is actually an impactful move, and second, the benefits are unlikely to be permanent.

For the most part, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a series of micro-puzzles where you're trying to "solve" the next Corner as best as you can. Then, the next Corner. And the next. It's pleasant, it's charming, but not exciting or fun.


Based on my thoughts under the "Fun Factor" section, it should be clear that my experience with Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a game that's relatively flat. Without any significant highs or lows, it's a steady race from start to finish.

That said, the one time it does reach any sort of thrilling excitement is when you near the end of the final lap. That final turn is the one that truly matters; every prior turn was just jockeying to put yourself in a position to burst past the finish line.

So, Heat: Pedal to the Metal successfully emulates the pace of real-life racing: a relatively uniform experience that caps off with an explosive finale.

What's nice is that the game itself is a countdown to the end. As you move along the track, you can see for yourself that you're closer to the finish, and each turn becomes increasingly more important as you prepare for that final play.

Fortunately, the simultaneous action in Heat: Pedal to the Metal makes for a snappy game with very little downtime. Once everyone has chosen their cards to play, the actual resolution is quick and straightforward (at least once you've familiarized yourself with the semi-clunky phases of resolution).

Player Interaction

Despite everyone playing on the same central board, I consider Heat: Pedal to the Metal to be a multiplayer solitaire game. You really don't have much intentional impact or influence over anyone else. It's all very indirect.

Namely, your actions won't influence how anyone else chooses to act. You can't force anyone to slow down or speed up, you can't crash into anyone, you can't intentionally block anyone from passing you, you can't force errors on anyone.

Sure, the positioning of everyone else will determine whether you get a Slipstream when your movement is resolved, but as discussed in the "Luck Factor" section above, Slipstreaming is more accidental than intentional. But apart from Slipstreaming, there's actually no interaction between cars.

Truth be told, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is not a game where you're racing against other players; it's actually a game where you're maximizing hand efficiency and playing your cards against the Corners of the track.

Solo Mode (Legends Module)

Heat: Pedal to the Metal comes with several modules that build upon the base game, and my favorite of those modules is the Legends Module that lets you incorporate easy-to-run Bots that fill out the track and make it possible to play solo.

Technically, the Legends Module isn't only for solo play. If you're ever playing with fewer than max players, you can always add as many Bots as you want—and because they're so easy to run, they don't affect pacing at all.

How do the Legends Bots work?

Heat: Pedal to the Metal comes with a special Legends Deck. Every round, the top card is flipped and this card determines how each Bot moves that round. The card provides two different movement amounts, and the one you use is determined by each Bot's relative distance to the next Corner on the track.

On every track, there's a golden "Legends Line" before every Corner.

If a Bot is behind the Legends Line, then the Bot moves the number of spaces as determined by their helmet on the Legends Card. If this would cause the Bot to pass the Corner, then the Bot instead stops a certain distance before the Corner (i.e., the number in the Diamond above the Bot's helmet on the Legends Card).

If a Bot has crossed the Legends Line, then the Bot moves a number of spaces equal to the upcoming Corner's Speed Limit plus the number in the Diamond above the Bot's helmet on the card.

It sounds confusing on paper, but it quickly becomes second nature once you've run it a few times—and then it's really simple. (The instructions are printed on the Legends Mat in case you ever need a reference for what to do.)

The Legends Module is so clean that it single-handedly elevates Heat: Pedal to the Metal from a good game to a great game. It remains perfectly playable at all player counts and you lose none of the fun.


Strictly in terms of gameplay, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is a rather same-same affair from game to game. The general idea is simple and non-changing: play your best against each Corner and try to set yourself up for a powerful finish.

But there are several elements that inject some replay value.

The base game comes with four unique tracks. I was skeptical at first whether Heat: Pedal to the Metal would change much with different tracks, so color me surprised when the game really does feel different per track.

Each track has a unique layout of Corners, with one track having long stretches of straight road with tight turns, another tracks having lots of short roads with moderate turns, etc. And since the gameplay mainly focuses on how you approach Corners, the puzzle is significantly different in every track.

The Weather and Road Conditions Module shakes up the puzzle. The Weather Module alters the setup conditions of a track, such as adding or removing Heat or Stress Cards to everyone's decks. Weather can also affect certain stretches of road, increasing how much you Slipstream, disallowing Slipstream, disallowing Cooldowns, etc. when driving on that section of road.

The Road Conditions Module alters the various Corners and stretches of road on the track. Corners might have their Speed Limits adjusted up or down, while certain stretches of road might get stronger Slipstreams or the ability boost without acquiring Heat Cards.

Weather and Road Condition tokens are randomly distributed across the track, so you can replay a given track dozens of times without ever playing the exact same track.

The Garage Module shakes things up on a personal level. In the base game, everyone starts with the same identical set of 15 Starter Cards. With the Garage Module, three of those 15 Starter Cards are removed and replaced with Upgrade Cards.

Upgrade Cards are advanced forms of Speed Cards, allowing you to do all kinds of cool stuff like Cooldown while moving, discard Stress Cards, acquire Heat to move a massive amount of distance, choose the movement value of the card, etc.

Changing the makeup of your own personal deck will change what kind of strategies you use to get through a given track, which further tweaks the experience.

The Championship System extends play for serious groups. A Championship is a series of 3 or 4 games, where players earn points per game depending on how well they place. Whoever earns the most points wins!

But there's a little more to it than that. For one thing, each player acquires random Sponsorship Cards at the start of each race, which are basically one-time-use cards that provide versatility. Furthermore, each player's Upgrade Cards are carried through to each game, as if driving the same car for the entire season.

The Championship System is nice for two reasons: it gives you reason to play at least 3 to 4 games at a time, and it helps mitigate the luck factor. The better player with the better car is more likely to come out on top!

Production Quality

At its core, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is just a hand management card game, but the components are so outstandingly well-made that it feels like a full-blown gaming experience. It actually feels over-produced, if you ask me.

The map boards have top-notch graphic design, but are too big. As I mentioned earlier in this review, my biggest complaint against Heat: Pedal to the Metal is the amount of table space it demands. Between the giant tracks, player mats, and module mats, it certainly makes itself known on the table.

That said, the map boards are well-designed. They pack a lot of information on them without crossing into overwhelming territory, and any detail that's important (e.g., Legends Lines, Corner Speed Limits, etc.) is easy to parse. I just think they could've been shrunken down without losing much in the process.

The card quality is excellent, but you'll probably want to sleeve them anyway. Every card has a lovely linen finish that feels nice to the touch. However, the cards in Heat: Pedal to the Metal get shuffled and handled so frequently that they're going to wear out. It's a question of when, not if. (Save for making all the cards plastic, I don't think there would've been a way to mitigate this issue.)

The pawns and tokens are functional yet fun to handle. The Car Pawns and Gear Pawns add a nice touch to the experience. They evoke childhood memories of playing with Hot Wheels cars to a degree, and the Gear Pawns evoke the sense of actually shifting gears while racing.

Would the game have been as playable if these pawns were cardboard tokens? Yeah, probably. But the improved experience is worth it in this case.

As for the other components that are cardboard tokens, it makes sense that they were relegated to cardboard. They just sit on the map board and never get handled after initial setup, so the extra costs wouldn't be justified.

The box insert is fantastic and helps organize setup and cleanup. For games with lots of components, a smartly designed box insert can make or break the overall experience—and that's certainly the case for Heat: Pedal to the Metal.

The insert doesn't just aid in organization (i.e., making it really easy to grab just the cards and tokens you need for setup without rummaging through a million plastic baggies), but also helps protect the cards and keeps everything in their place even when the box is stored vertically.

My only wish here is that the map boards weren't so enormous and thick. As is, they cause the box to be bigger and heavier than necessary. (In fact, I personally wouldn't have minded if the game came with fewer tracks.)

The amount of "extra" content helps justify the price. Without a doubt, Heat: Pedal to the Metal is an expensive game with an MSRP of $75. You might be able to find it as cheap as $60 at certain retailers, but that's still a hefty price tag for what essentially amounts to a glorified card game with well-made components.

If you only play the base game, the price honestly doesn't make sense and you might want to skip it. But if you're going to dive in and make full use of the Garage Module, Weather and Road Conditions Module, and Championship System, then the price is absolutely reasonable. There's a lot of content here!

The Bottom Line

Heat: Pedal to the Metal

Recommended Score Guide
  1. Strong production on top of solid hand management gameplay
  2. Simultaneous action makes for quick, snappy turns
  3. Legends Module keeps the game interesting at all player counts (including solo)
  4. Lots of content and variety packed into the box
  1. Relatively flat experience until the climactic final round
  2. Hard to tell when you're playing well and making good decisions
  3. Slipstreaming feels unpredictable and unearned
  4. Table hog due to the huge map boards plus player mats
Leave a Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments