Heat: Pedal To The Medal
I have only played Heat at 2 players so this review is coming at the game from that perspective. I’ve been looking for years for a racing game that plays well with only 2 players, and I’ve struggled. Unicorn Fever plays very well at this player count, as does Full Throttle, but I’d class them more as betting games rather than racing games. I’d pretty much given up hope.
And then Heat appeared. There are many great things about this game, but the way that you can always play with 6 cars on the track is impressive. The other cars are bots, and as such, are AI controlled. Oh dear, you say, that sounds like a lot of hassle, controlling 4 other cars in a 2 player game. But it’s not. It’s pretty straightforward.
For every round of the game, you flip a card that shows how the AI cars will move. This works differently depending on whether the car in question is close to a corner or not. A line drawn on the board shows you how close to a corner a car is: before the line and it is far away, after the line, it’s up close. If it’s far away, you move the car the number of spaces shown on the card. If this would take it past the corner then you stop at the numbered space shown in the diamond instead. Nice and easy. If it’s close, then you add the number shown on the diamond to the speed that the corner can be taken at, and move the car that far. You don’t have to worry about them having adrenaline boosts, cooling down their engines, slipstreaming, or boosting; it’s all kept as simple as possible.
This system takes a little bit of getting used to, but after a few rounds, it becomes second nature. Four AI-controlled cars can be moved in about 10 seconds. It’s incredible how quickly it all works, and how well the bots approximate the driving skills of real players. Sometimes cars will scream into the lead, only to falter later and fall back into the pack. At other times, cars will approach the corner at the wrong speed and get stuck before it. Even so, they can sometimes claw their way back, just like real players.
It looks like the first expansion for Heat will include another 2 cars, and I wouldn’t mind running 6 AI cars at all. It would be nice if the expansion gave a bit more personality to the AI drivers, especially for use in the Tournament mode. Playing against a selection of cars where one of them is always the odds-on favourite, and another is generally at the back of the pack, but can very occasionally come good and win a race would be great. Also being able to give faces to the other drivers would be a fun touch too.
Heat doesn’t just have a clever AI system, it’s also got a huge amount of content. If you have a fair amount of patience, you can treat elements of the game as expansions, and introduce them bit by bit over time. At first, we purposely didn’t look at the other tracks and only played on the USA course (we played over 10 games on this course alone). We then added in the extra cards, starting with the basic ones, and then the advanced ones. Finally, we added the weather module, and this was all on the first track. After leaving the game for a while and playing other stuff, we came back and started using the Italy map. It was like we’d bought an expansion without having to actually pay any money. We’ve still got two tracks left to discover, and then the tournament mode too. There really is a lot of content. It’s as if Days of Wonder travelled forwards in time, looked at the first few expansions they were going to release, and then bunged them all together into a big box version. That’s how the base game of Heat feels.
So how does this compare to designer Asger Harding Granerud's other racing game, Flamme Rouge? Very well, in fact. The push-your-luck element of using the stress cards to try and jam it around tricky corners is a lot of fun. I know many people love Flamme Rouge, but I find it to be a bit dry. Heat has many more moments of fun and excitement. And at 2 players, it's a no-brainer, Heat is so much better.
If you primarily play at 2 or 3 players, I can thoroughly recommend Heat as a racing game. Of course, I can also recommend the game if you play with any player count. It’s a stunning game, chock full of content,
excitement, and close finishes. I would completely agree with the original review’s rating.