Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is the best game I have ever played.
Before I can talk about the Legacy aspects, I should cover the basic game. If you've played the basic game, skip forward to the next header.
Pandemic is a pure cooperative game in which 2-4 players play a team from the Center for Disease Control. Four diseases are rampaging across the world, and it's up to you to stop them.
The board is a network of cities. Each city is associated with one of the four diseases, with the world divided into four zones for the four diseases. Links between cities are paths easily traversed by the CDC researchers.
There are two decks, each of which has one card for each city. One deck, the disease deck, implements the spread of the disease. At the end of your turn you'll draw two or more cards, adding disease cubes to those spaces. If adding a cube would take the count to four, instead there is an outbreak and you add one to every adjacent city, which may cause further outbreaks. Each outbreaks ticks down a counter that is one of several ways to lose.
The second deck's cities are helpful. Players collect and trade them among themselves. You can spend city cards to fly directly to or from the city. If you and another player are in the same city names on a card, you can transfer it. When if someone collects five city cards of a single color, they can head to a research station and discover a cure to that disease. Once cures for all four diseases are found, you win!
As a bonus, the second deck has events which provide varying benefits. But... there are a number of Epidemic cards in the deck. When you draw one, you draw the bottom card from the disease deck, infect that city, and discard. Then you shuffle the disease deck's discard pile and put them back on top of the deck. The result is that cities hit early on tend to get hit again and again.
Pandemic is a lot of fun. It's satisfying to work as a group to solve the puzzle of using your scarce actions to control outbreaks and work toward cures.
I have just one "but" for basic Pandemic: there is nothing in place to stop a single player from dominating the game. None of the information is secret (your cards are hidden, but you can and probably show tell your fellow players what they are), and you should work as a group. As a result, someone with a strong personality can dominate play, giving other players orders. Essentially, one person plays the game while everyone else acts does as they order. More recent cooperative games tend to add mandatory secrets or time limits to deal with this problem. For Pandemic there is only one answer: play with friendly people who value letting everyone contribute and make their own decisions. This is a reasonable solution, but does limit who you can play with.
I've now played basic Pandemic a few dozen times. The first dozen or so were a lot of fun. At that point, I got a bit tired of it. Games were a bit too similar. I'll still play if other people are keen on it, but I'm not going to be the person suggesting it. Overall I'm happy I bought it.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 can be played as basic Pandemic. The rules are given. So if you're certain you're want to play Pandemic Legacy, but haven't played basic Pandemic, you can buy Legacy and can and should play a half-dozen games with the basic rules.
Pandemic Legacy builds on basic Pandemic. It starts with the assumption that you're reasonably skilled at basic Pandemic. I recommend at least 3 games of basic Pandemic. Even better, play basic Pandemic until it starts getting a little stale. Then, move on to Pandemic Legacy.
The dominant player problem is still here, perhaps even worse since the cards are no longer hidden. You'll need to find good fellow players. Furthermore, because of the nature of the game, you really want four players, and you want everyone to show up to every session.
Pandemic Legacy covers one in-game year. You'll play one game for each in-game month, with a chance to replay a month once if fail. As a result you'll be playing 12-24 games, probably 16-20 in practice. Our group could comfortably do 2 games over about 3 hours in a single night. It took our group 20 games over 10 roughly weekly sessions to finish.
The game starts as normal Pandemic. There are two real additions. First, as outbreaks happen, cities gain permanent stickers indicating their descent into chaos, making them increasingly difficult to access. Second, if a character is in a city that outbreaks, they gain a scar, a permanent negative trait. There only real addition But then, halfway through the first game... things change. At first it's a small thing. When you move to the second month, it gets... worse. As you advance, things keep getting worse, but you start getting new abilities. Special objectives build up the overall story about what is going on.
And there I can't say much more without spoiling it. A big part of the fun of Pandemic Legacy is the stream of surprises. As a result, I recommend avoiding spoilers. (There are no real spoilers here.)
Mechanically, the game grows increasingly complex, with more and more options being added. But they're added slowly, with the game itself functioning as a tutorial, so it's never overwhelming. By the end, the game we were playing was wildly different from basic Pandemic, it was a much more complex game, but the complexity felt worth it.
The game has two tools to help tune the difficulty. If you lose, for the next game the government increases your funding, adding two more beneficial event cards to your deck. More cards means slightly longer between epidemics, and the cards are inherently useful. If you do well, your funding gets cut and you lose event cards, making it hard. Also, if you do well you only play a given month once. If you lose you get a second chance.
So, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 is the best game I've every played. Why?
First and foremost, the game is an incredible bonding experience. It's not a "we fought in a war" bonding experience, but it's the four of you against the harsh game, facing the unknown, and struggling together. I've never even had this sort of experience with a tabletop role-playing game. Something about the opponent itself being a mindless, physical thing makes it "real."
Second, the story and the surprises are fun. There is nothing amazing going on, but it's well told and well integrated with the game itself. The designers have some skill at manipulating human psychology, meaning some of the surprising are very... appropriate.
Finally, the mechanical twists add a lot of life back to Pandemic. I'd play one or two dozen games of basic Pandemic. It was fun, but I was mostly done with it. Another member of our group had played a few games of basic Pandemic, and it never really grabbed him. We both agreed that Pandemic Legacy made the game fresh and exciting.
If you never liked basic Pandemic, you probably aren't going to like Pandemic Legacy. It adds a lot, but at its core is basic Pandemic. Now, if you're tired of Pandemic, Pandemic Legacy may be just right for you.
Overall it's a compelling experience. The four of us were always eager to play again and to talk about how the game was going.
I look forward eagerly to Season 2.
If you're interested, I wrote up some posts about our Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 game as we were playing. Spoilers are clearly marked.