It's an adage that add-ons can be tougher than the original game. That adage applies in spades to the Railroad Tycoon II expansion pack, The Second Century. For fans of Railroad Tycoon II who may have exhausted the original scenarios and campaigns, The Second Century adds some hefty new challenges.
The Second Century consists of 18 new scenarios, including five new campaigns. Most of the features added to the game consist of new industries, buildings, and trains - relatively few new gameplay features have been added, the most significant being the ability to have cargo carry through intermediate stations.
All the scenarios are fairly difficult, though some are downright fiendish. Most of the difficulty lies in either the victory conditions, which can be quite demanding, or the terrain, which can make laying rail a hair-pulling proposition. Since the real value of this pack is the scenarios, let's dive into railroading's second century by taking a look at the most compelling of these.
The historical scenarios are split up between late 19th century and near-modern (post World War I) eras. One of the more interesting campaigns is the North to Alaska campaign. There are no competitors, and you get an automatic stipend of $150,000 per year from the US Government. The year is 1930, and the country is in the midst of the Great Depression. All you have to do is build a rail line from Seattle to Fairbanks as a sort of public works project to keep people employed. Of course, if you can get rich in the process....
It seems like a piece of cake, and in fact, it's one of the easier campaigns for you to achieve at least minimum victory conditions. But it's something of a precursor to later maps, because right away, you're faced with a difficult track-laying procedure. It's simple enough to build a line from Seattle to Vancouver, but stretching beyond Canada's west coast metropolis is a tough proposition due to a seemingly impenetrable mountain range. Here, your inability to build tunnels in Railroad Tycoon II is a frustration, but if you study the map carefully, you'll see you can successfully construct a switchback over the mountain range between Vancouver and Williams Lake. The rest of the map is no picnic, but once you master this range, laying track becomes a bit easier. At least you don't have any competition on this map - but then, you can only connect track to existing track. You can't build short, lucrative lines to keep the revenues flowing. The one piece of good news is that you can easily build a line that connects Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. With a few branches for resources, this tripartite line becomes your cash cow. Still, it's not easy to get past bronze level, and this is the "easy" one.
In the Battle of Britain campaign, there's no stock market, no competition, you can't build new stations, and you can't buy new locomotives. The time scale is different, too, as the campaign covers a scant 12 days; most Railroad Tycoon veterans are used to multiyear campaigns. This campaign is Railroad Tycoon II's version of that venerable circus arcade game whack-a-mole crossed with a trace-the-maze game.
The gist of the campaign is this: You're managing the British rail system during the Battle of Britain (1940). You can repair six segments of track per day. You have to move a certain amount of cargo in the form of war material and troops to specific locations. It becomes an exercise in finding the key connector routes and making sure they stay repaired. Of course, as time passes, segments of tracks get bombed, and trains get strafed. You have to keep your trains moving and key track segments repaired. While interesting as a sort of puzzle, it's an almost mind-numbing exercise.
Mother Russia is a much more compelling strategic exercise than the Battle of Britain campaign. Here, you actually affect the progress of Germany's Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia in June 1941. By moving men and material around, you can counterbalance the military strength of the Germans. This is handled somewhat artificially through "strength points." As war material and troops pour into a region, the total strength goes up - but the Germans are building up, too. If the Russian strength in a given sector falls below that of the German military machine, you lose that territory. The key is to be very patient and keep the game speed down low. You start with a fairly skimpy cash reserve, and though you do incur the usual costs, they're offset by a steady income flow in the early stages. Note that as you lose areas (and you will lose some areas), your revenue stream may start to drop.
Some of the most interesting and challenging scenarios are the hypothetical ones. Some take place in a future era, others in hypothetical regions.
Take Mediterranean Basin, for instance. Imagine that the Mediterranean Sea has been completely drained of water. I know, it's a tough sell, but you can do it. Now you have the entire former seabed to exploit. But the terrain is fiendishly difficult in places. Most major cities lie on what was once mainland Europe, North Africa, or islands - and that means steep climbs.
This one is actually great fun because of the start date: 2006. You not only get some nifty new high-tech trains, but also some new industries - the weirdest being the Geocore power plant. Unfortunately, you really need to start out with some moneymaking lines on the European mainland to start generating hard currency, so it's some time before you start into the Med itself.
The Antarctica campaign lets you build on the southernmost continent. This one is tough because you have to ignore your past RRT experience. In the standard game, one common strategy is to build a few short, fairly lucrative passenger lines to keep the cash coming to fund your more ambitious projects, not to mention industry acquisitions. But there are relatively few settlements in Antarctica (no surprise there). So you have to focus on connecting resources to manufacturing, then finding outlets for the goods. There are a number of port cities that demand certain raw materials, but those are limited to just a few items. It's challenging also because you only have a couple different trains to pick from.
Seattle Metro is probably the toughest scenario in the game, and it's a doozy. You're presented with a map of the greater Seattle area, and your goal is to build an effective mass transit system. The scale is much different, covering a much smaller geographical region than most RRT maps. In addition, there are lots of pesky houses and commercial property to make your track laying a nightmare. The final complication is that, unlike most Railroad Tycoon maps, there are many different types of passengers. You really have to consider the different types of passengers in planning your routes and consider the demand of each particular station. Even after you've gotten a few stations up and running, you have to keep checking them, because the demand for passenger types keeps shifting.
There are certainly more scenarios that I didn't have time to explore. Imagine developing a railroad system in China or keeping Berlin fed during the Berlin Crisis. Or consider the challenge of building a railroad between France and Great Britain - but beware those Chunnel expenses!
The game comes with a full map/scenario editor and supports up to four players in multiplayer mode, either on a local area network or over the Internet. If you have a lot of Railroad Tycoon II saved games, and you get The Second Century, be sure to download the 1.51 patch, which fixes some problems with loading older save-game files.
The bottom line is that The Second Century is a tough but compelling add-on to Railroad Tycoon II. You rapidly discover that your past strategies no longer work, and you have to really think to develop new ones. It's certainly a cerebral set of challenges, but if you're a serious fan of the game, this is a terrific add-on. If you're just starting into Railroad Tycoon II, you may want to pass on this until you master the first game.