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Subject: A Hot Rod Board Game rss

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Pete Belli
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Florida
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"If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."
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Burn Out! A Hot Rod Board Game was published in 1996 by two racing enthusiasts from California. The advertising copy on the box tells us that Burn Out! is "An exciting fast paced board game of… fast cars, smoking’ tires, blown engines, and run-ins with the law" for players age 8 and older.




I paid $3 for this copy at a thrift store and decided to give this unusual game a try. I seldom pass up an oddity like this during a thrift store safari adventure, but I don’t play too many of these weird games.

The creators of this board game were obviously experts on hot rod racing. The rule booklet includes two extensive glossary sections that explain the technical terms used on the cards. The challenge cards used during the street races contain detailed information about the opposing vehicle. For example, I lost a race to a 1970 LS6 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 that appeared on the randomly drawn card.




While the creators of Burn Out! were extremely knowledgeable about hot rod racing they crashed and burned with their understanding of board game design. Burn Out! is no high performance machine in that arena. Play crawled along like a Prius, not a Corvette.

The two drivers will be called “Leadfoot” Miller (in the coupe) and “Piston” Pete (driving the pick-up truck) to guarantee anonymity and avoid trouble with the Highway Patrol. A few minutes scanning the rule booklet provided adequate preparation for play so both hot rods hit the road.

The map is a cartoon representation of a city with locations appropriate to the theme: gas station, drive-in restaurant, towing service impound yard, and the courthouse. Burn Out! is a typical roll-and-move game with spaces requiring players to have a street race, draw cards, go back “X” number of spaces, lose a turn, etc. After a few turns it quickly became apparent that the players were spending as much time moving backward or losing turns as the time they spent staging races.

This was unfortunate because the method used to conduct the races was both entertaining and educational. There are actually two different race situations and each challenge presented interesting choices.

The most common challenge occurs when a player lands in a “Race” square on the board. The player draws the top card from the race deck and discovers what type of vehicle he or she is up against. The opponent could be driving a laughable AMC Pacer with a value of 1 or cruising in a 1962 Chevy Impala 409 with a value of 10. The player can decide to use special “Winner” cards that provide a hot rod with equipment which enhances the car’s performance. For example a “Posi Traction” card adds 5 points to the player’s die roll. The driver rolls a standard six-sided die and adds the total points provided by the “Winner” card choices. If the result is higher that the value of the opposing car, the player wins the race.

The real fun starts when two players race head-to-head after a stoplight challenge or some other traffic event. Now both players can select “Winner” cards to enhance the performance of their hot rods, and since the choices are kept secret until the race begins there is a considerable amount of bluffing and blustering involved. A player may select two relatively stinky cards (with a value of 1 or 2) but the other driver can’t be certain that those aren’t powerful equipment options. This is all great stuff.



In this example “Piston” Pete has decided to use “Dual Exhaust” with a value of 4 while “Leadfoot” Miller has selected “Speed Shift” with a value of 2. The pick-up rolls a “3” on the die for a total of 7 points while the coupe rolls a “6” for a total of 8 points. “Leadfoot” has won the race!

In a session of Burn Out! winning is everything because the game uses an unfortunate “the rich get richer” hand management system. The winner of a race gets another equipment card. The vanquished driver is forced to take a “You Lose” card that almost always puts that car way behind. The only hope for a lagging player is the random “Gotcha!” nature of the game board… if the lead driver lands on a bad square (and these are quite numerous) the slower driver has a slim chance of catching up. However, there is no strategy involved and no opportunity for a skillful move that will affect the outcome of the game.




In addition to this problem Burn Out! uses one of the worst game mechanics ever developed… the go back to start rule. The players get traffic tickets when they land on certain spaces or as an additional punishment when drawing “You Lose” cards. When a player collects four tickets his or her car is returned to the start space. Since the only method of discarding traffic tickets is a totally random visit to the Courthouse space after a lucky die roll the odds of getting nailed are high.

This rule, combined with the frequent stops at the gas station or the impound yard, does everything but wreck the game. The race cards and head-to-head competition are superb but the basic design is badly flawed. During this session “Leadfoot” racked up four traffic tickets about halfway through the game and headed back to start. “Piston” Pete had no tickets so it was obvious that the coupe would probably never catch up. “Leadfoot” gave up the chase.

Those race challenges were fun. That excellent equipment card management system should be incorporated into another hot rod racing game, if they haven’t already.
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Bill Paradise
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Glassboro
New Jersey
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Thanks for the great review. I've always been interested in this game, but now see that it's really not worth the effort.
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Bryan Walker
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My uncle is one of the developers and i grew up playing this game. I understand the flaws you pointed out and while growing up i have tweaked the rules to have it be a better flowing game. I will type up my V2 of the rules and hopefully we can get it updated. =)
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