It seems the latest trend in computer games is the "gold edition" - a re-release of an existing game with new features and enhancements to provide more depth and playability. These gold editions are often a great deal for gamers who never bought the original version of the game, but for players who have already bought the add-ons that are included in the "gold" edition, it's a much tougher sell.
And so it goes with The Settlers II Gold Edition. In addition to the original game, the Gold Edition includes The Settlers II Mission CD. What this means is that you get two linear campaigns; an "Unlimited Play" option that allows you compete against up to six computer opponents on any of 30 maps, with control over various game parameters such as victory conditions and resource levels; an excellent map editor for designing your own maps from scratch; and display resolutions of up to 1072 x 768 x 256.
For those of you who never played the of Settlers II, it's best described as a mix of and , with a heavy emphasis on economics and construction. In the Roman Campaign, for instance, you begin with only a headquarters containing building supplies; to help your tribe grow and expand, you must choose the most efficient order in which to construct new buildings. Before building a sawmill, for instance, you should first erect a house for the woodcutter who'll chop down the trees to bring to the sawmill. New building types become available as your civilization advances (in individual scenarios all building types are available from the get-go), and before very long you'll find yourself trying to harness a complex economic system in which there truly is a reaction for every action.
Players who revel in the minutiae of micromanagement will be delighted with the complex balancing act required here, but less patient gamers will likely shake their heads in bewilderment when things don't work the way they'd anticipated. True, it's all very linear, but even so, trying to track down the missing link in the production line that's responsible for a particular shortage can be maddening. One reason is the manual, an overly wordy and poorly organized affair that amazingly doesn't have a single screenshot of the main game screen. The online help system doesn't tell you anything you haven't already figured out, and the bare-bones walk-through that explains how to build the first three buildings in the Roman Campaign is appreciated but far too skimpy. A game like this practically screams for a tutorial - and such a feature would help it earn that "gold" moniker.
You'll eventually engage in combat against other tribes and races, and here too The Settlers II falls short: You have zero control over defensive postures of your troops, and when attacking, you merely choose how many attackers you'll send and whether you should use stronger or weaker troops from your garrisons. If you're looking for deep military strategy here, you'll be disappointed.
If you're not searching for sophisticated military options and don't mind investing a few hours mastering the economic model, The Settlers II Gold Edition has the potential to offer countless hours of play - assuming you don't mind playing against computer opponents, that is. You'd think the multiplayer mode would have gotten a major reworking for a "Gold Edition," but instead all that's available is a two-player hot seat mode that requires you to hook up two mice to your computer and play in split-screen mode. That could be for the best, considering the relatively sedate pace at which this game moves, but I'm sure there are some strategy fans out there who wouldn't mind spending an hour or two (or more) in a game over the Net.
Players who already own The Settlers II and the Mission CD can easily pass on the Gold Edition. This game is definitely not for everyone, but for those who think they're up to the challenge of lording over a sprawling empire, the Gold Edition is an excellent deal.