One of the very first games I Kickstarted at the beginning of the pandemic was Square Meal by Philip DuBarry. Coincidentally, he lives near me—hi neighbor!—but I didn’t know that at the time, because I was blinded by the light of his enchanting, food-themed puzzle game.
Square Meal is a concise game for 1-8 players, though with many more cards than Chartae. Each player receives a hand of three square cards, each with nine different, brightly-colored and squared-off food items in a grid (see what he did there?). From a second square deck, players draw goal cards with those food items laid out in patterns of varying difficulty. Players lay out, line up, overlap, and flip the three cards they’ve been given to create the pattern depicted. The pattern cards score points based on their difficulty—1, 2, or 3 points—and let me tell you, the 3-pointers are Very Hard. If a player cannot complete or wants to skip a card, they flip it face-down in their score pile and in the end they lose three points for every one of those flipped cards.
This game is surprisingly challenging. Multiple times last summer I sat down to have a casual solo game and upon flipping the first card and the second and the third, I found I absolutely couldn’t create the depicted pattern—the items would be mirrored or what I needed was on the back of another badly-needed card. To be fair, it was mostly the more difficult pattern cards, levels 2 and 3, where this happened—the wash of relief when I flipped a level 1 card was surprisingly physical!
The first challenge is figuring out how to even complete the pattern cards in the first place. Seeing where different foods line up where you want them and then were to overlap a second card but then realize that arrangement will preclude placing the third card because the cards are both Euclidian and physical and thus Won’t Do That is marvelously difficult. The second challenge is in playing with others: you’re racing to complete pattern cards plus using some additional, extremely simple pattern cards to attack the other players. It’s just mean, and if you’ve been reading my stuff here, you know I like a little mean in my games.
DuBarry has included a number of variations in the box like ways to simple it up and ways to make it harder, much much harder. Listen, at $16, Square Meal is a lot of game in a small box and highly recommended for all your holiday-purchasing needs!