We study the epitaxial, columnar growth of (multiply oriented) dendrites/cells for a spot melt in a polycrystalline Al–Cu substrate using two-dimensional, phase-field, direct numerical simulations (DNS) at the full-melt-pool scale. Our main objective is to compare the expensive DNS model to a much cheaper but approximate “line” model in which a single-crystal phase-field simulation is confined to a narrow rectangular geometry. To perform this comparison, we develop algorithms that automatically extract quantities of interest (QoIs) from both DNS and line models. These QoIs allow us to quantitatively assess the assumptions in the line model and help us analyze its discrepancy with the DNS model. We consider four sets of heat source parameters, mimicking welding and additive manufacturing conditions, that create a combination shallow and deep melt pools. Our largest DNS simulation used 16K 14K grid points in space. Our main findings can be summarized as follows. Under AM conditions, the QoIs of line models are in excellent agreement with the full DNS results for both shallow and deep melt pools. Under welding conditions, the primary spacing of the DNS model is smaller than the prediction of line model. We identify a geometric crowding effect that accounts for the discrepancies between the DNS and line models. We propose two potential mechanisms that determine the response of the microstructure to geometric crowding.