Ryan looks at the upcoming real-time puzzle game, Square Meal.
If you have been in the hobby for some time, you might be familiar with the name Philip duBarry, designing such titles as Embark, Spirits of the Rice Paddy, Black Orchestra, among others. Well, Philip is coming out with a new family title, Square Meal, that he is actually self-publishing under Phantasio Games. For 1-6 players, Square Meal is a real-time puzzle game. I think in the case of this game, the BGG description does it more justice than I could:
“Square Meal is a quick, puzzle-solving race for 2-6 players. In the game, you will flip, rotate, and overlap your three ingredients cards until they form the pattern on your challenge card. When you complete a challenge card, you’ll add it to your score pile and immediately begin working on a new one. You’ll lose a point each time you pass. To win, you’ll need to form patterns quickly and have the most points when the deck runs out.”
So as mentioned above, players are using ingredient cards to try to complete a personal pattern card that is ranked in difficulty (and point value) from 1-3. An ingredient card is double-sided and each side has 9 items of food (though one side will have a star in the center that is wild) and you are simply trying to recreate the pattern. duBarry has done a good job of making each of the types of food look different, so there is no confusing them with other items as you are racing to complete. If you pass, you turn a card facedown in your complete stack and it will count as -1 at the end. Players play until someone can’t draw a puzzle card when they need to and then everyone stops – puts aside the card they are working on (it doesn’t count for or against) and the player with the most points wins.
It should be noted there is also a solo mode where a player is given 5 random ingredient cards and work their way through 8 solo challenges.
The game itself comes in a box that is 3 ½ inches by 3 ¾ inches – so it’s small and compact and all cards are square – ready for travel or play at a restaurant. The gameplay is super fast. My 11-year-old found the game really fun. While I found it fun as well, I also found challenges (mainly Lvl 3 Cards) that I wasn’t able to complete my 3 random ingredient cards. I don’t know if the fault was mine, or if it was impossible to complete the cards I was dealt. Truthfully, I think it was a little bit of both when I faced this issue. However, if you find that the case, or think it is so – it’s better to take the negative point and move on to the next card. The game plays fast enough that you can always play again or play the “Buffet Variant” where puzzle cards are put in the middle of the table (4 of them) and they are open to all players around the table to complete and claim.
Gameschooling View: Square Meal teaches and reinforces pattern recognition/making. It doesn’t take up much time and could be a good warm-up game. Also, if your older children (8 and up) enjoy puzzles, this could be a good one for silent time if you homeschool your children, with its solo challenge.
My 11-year-olds take: Square Meal is both fun and challenging. I think it’s cool that they have different level of points, so even if you completed fewer cards than someone you can still win.
My Final Take: Issues with me not being able to complete some of the puzzles withstanding, Square Meal is fast, compact and would be a great one to play with the family at a family function or when you are out at a restaurant and waiting for food. It can also feel very satisfying when you complete a puzzle card but don’t bask in your satisfaction too long, you need to move on to the next card, it is a race after all!
Square Meal will be on Kickstarter on January 7, 2020.
Note: Thank you to Philip duBarry for providing Ryan with a free copy of the game for an honest preview.