The roar of the engines is deafening as the hot rods careen past the stands. The Demon seems to be catching up with the Wizard, burning off the last of its fuel in a desperate attempt to cinch the victory for their team. He makes the turn, but just ahead is the ring of fire, a deadly jump that only the most skilled drivers can make. The Wizard shoots out into the open air and it’s only a split second before the Demon is streaking up the ramp too. Praying as he nears the edge, yes he knows that this is ironic, the Demon sees that his tank is empty and lets fate decide. He flips out and… success! Into the final turn, and they’re neck and neck, it’s anybodies race. But out of nowhere, they couldn’t have seen it coming, the anthropomorphic food combos in from that wicked final turn, and right into the winners circle.
Hot Rod Creeps is the final game in what I like to call Cryptozoic Games’ “Awesome Art Trilogy” (I wrote about the other two parts of the trilogy earlier, you can check out those reviews here (Battle Wizards) and here (Food Fight)). Hot Rod Creeps is a fairly basic racing game with a whole lot of heart. It’s one of those games that feels like it was made with love; love for both the subject matter and the gameplay ideals. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the game is groundbreaking or really even very good, but it can be a fun way to spend a couple hours.
Before getting into actual gameplay, I have to mention that it’s really obvious that the art of Ed Roth influenced this game’s appearance quite heavily. The reference is so blatant that it’s bordering on stylistic theft, but I can’t condemn them for it because Ed Roth really did make shit that’s awesome to look at and other people have been copying him for half a century. The whole “oversized cartoon monster in a hot rod” aesthetic that this game borrows from so profoundly is one of those things that people see once and can never unsee (nor would they want to).
That art style is omnipresent in the game. I love the way the artist [Dirk Eric Schulz] drew everything. It’s great! I just wish there was more of it. Each racer’s deck of cards only has 1 image of the racer itself in it, which is more than a little disappointing. They use that one image over and over again, twice on some cards in that deck (front and back). Don’t let me get too down on the art just because of that… there is plenty of fun, over the top imagery when it comes to vehicle upgrades. If they had done just a few more angles on each racer then I’d have literally nothing to complain about with the art. Here are a few examples of those awesome upgrade card images.
Now that I’ve told you how much I love the art, let me tell you about my general ambivalence towards the game itself. The best part of the game is setting up the track, which you do before the game-proper even starts. That is a problem for a lot of reasons. Not least of which is that races can take between 5 minutes and an hour depending on how good/bad everyone’s luck is. The game is so random that it’s impossible to predict how things will go, strategy is limited to what cards you hold in your hand, and to top it off – half of the racers rely on luck based mechanics in addition to their luck based card drawing. All they do is flip cards off the top of their deck and hope for the right card. It’s kind of stupid.
Taking a step back. Stopping myself from hyperventilating. Let me establish, in all caps, THIS ISN’T A SERIOUS GAME. You should not treat this like other racing games (this isn’t Formula D). Whoever designed this game made something for the whole family, something that you *the professional gamer* can play along with your 5 year old niece, your 90 year old grandmother and your cousin that has severe ADHD. Nobody is going to have an innate advantage. It’s super easy to pick up and play, and so long as you can read and count, you won’t have a problem with the game mechanics.
Of course my favorite part, the track building, is actually the part of the game that has the most impact on how the rest of the round will play out. Simply because different racers have different strengths. The Underworld racer goes super fast, they absolutely dominate on straight-aways, while racers like The Aliens will do much better on tracks that curve a whole bunch. Building a track that is both fair and interesting is a real test, and the only aspect of the game that can be truly challenging.
This isn’t a game for you to carry around with you to every meeting of your board game club (and not just because it’s a giant box). Very few people are going to want to play this more than twice in a sitting. Don’t think of that as a bad thing though… I feel like the less experience with the game people have, then the more likely it is that they’ll not hate it. There was a certain point where I realized that I have very little control over my racer. I can make small decisions but it’s all up to chance if those decisions work out for me or blow up in my face. In the early rounds though, I think most people will at least try to “do the right thing” strategically speaking. So long as the façade hasn’t been shattered for them yet, I think just about anyone can enjoy the silly racing mechanics and ideas.
There’s a lot of reasons to get the game, and a lot of reasons to pass it up. Kids will like this game because it’s simple. Adults will be able to appreciate it for it’s whimsical artwork and for being a game that no one can predict the outcome. Even though I have problems with much of the gameplay, it can still be a good way to occupy yourself for a short while. If you need a game that your whole family can play (up to six of you anyway) then you could do a whole lot worse than Hot Rod Creeps… but you could do better too.