Playing with blocks is a universal experience, being not only fun for all ages but also an essential tool in development. Students at the DigiPen Institute of Technology have taken that basic structure and created a marvelous strategy game that involves not only stacking blocks but, in a stroke that some would call brilliant but I call mandatory, knocking your opponent's structures down.
Bontago is a Windows-only territory-grabbing, block-stacking, real-time strategy game (phew). Beginning in your "corner" of a circular arena you must expand your territory by stacking blocks as high as possible, in an attempt to envelope the central white goal flag. There are numerous power-ups that you can also claim, some that directly attack your opponent's stacks of blocks (rockets, volcanoes) and others that actually affect the entire playing field itself (earthquake, a heavy anvil that tilts the arena). You can only drop blocks in your current territory, and blocks dropped in overlapping territories are ejected from the map. The next block in your queue is shown on your display tetris-style, though I never really found myself looking at it. You would do well to go through the brief tutorial, as there are camera controls and block manipulation controls mapped to all three mouse buttons.
And trust me: you must also learn how to "throw" blocks. It's a necessary skill for tossing the odd power-up, but in a pinch you can also throw an ordinary block of your own to try to knock over your opponent's pieces.
The game has a few play modes, including solo play, sandbox and multiplayer. Though the website has some interesting screenshots showing what fun you can have in the sandbox, I didn't really try it out. Why not just get some actual blocks? I tried multiplayer but the options seemed limited to LAN and typing in an actual IP address of a hosted game. Unless I missed something, there was no match-up lounge for multiplayer games, which seems like the next critical step in the evolution of the game client.
The solo mode is very configurable, including not just options for number of opponents but the effect of gravity, number of goal flags, frequency of power-ups, etc. You can even specify a music folder for the game to serve up mp3s while you play, though you have to type an absolute path in a box: there's no browse dialog; and it seemed to just play it all in alphabetical order. I was listening to the Afro-Celt Sound System Volume 1 every time I launched the game.
The game itself was fun. I just played against the computer game after game after game, getting my lunch handed to me until I finally developed a workable strategy. You can very quickly take the central flag by stacking ever higher in one spot, but that leaves you extremely vulnerable to attack. You're better off striking a balance between tall thin towers with some squat stable strongholds in between so that if you lose a tower, you don't lose all of your progress.
Both versions of the game are free, the Lite offering almost-full functionality, only leaving out backgrounds and music (but you're listening to your own anyway, right?). The full version has it all, but weighs in at a hefty 23 MB download, rather than the svelte 4.11 MB or so of the Lite version.
Download the free full version