Pandemic - Great Co-op Game!
Pandemic was my first experience with co-op gaming, and it remains my favorite.
When you first open the box, you will notice a large number of little pieces. Though the pieces are plastic the quality is high, and the entire setup is aesthetically pleasing. Setup can take a little time as there are multiple stacks of cards that need to be separated, sorted and shuffled in specific ways. There are also a fair number of little pieces that are placed on the board in specific ways. Overall setup is not difficult, and the instructions are very clear and straightforward.
For being a co-op game, game play is actually very simple. The instructions are very clear, with simple examples and multiple sections of clarifications. I have also never run into a situation in the games that is not addressed in the rules. There are also turn reference cards for every player. The game-play is easy enough to pick up in one game, or less.
Though the game-play is simple, it is intense. In order to win, all players need to be focused on what each player is doing and constantly working together to plan current and further actions in order to achieve victory. When our group plays Pandemic not even cell phones are a distraction, and they have been with other games.
The biggest down side I have found to Pandemic is how difficult it is to win. Difficulty can be scaled to a degree, depending on how may Epidemic cards you shuffle in, but it still might take several games to develop a winning play style. In our group, the first couple of times we played, we either lost, or won by not quite following the rules. It was discouraging. We later picked up the “State of Emergency” expansion, which introduces quarantines that help to reduce game difficulty. The next time we played, we had them in the game but never used them, and won. Now this experience may be because this was our first co-op game, and not due to the game itself. So I would encourage everyone to play several games before giving up.
Our group found that not all the roles (the unique speciality ability set that each player gets at start of game) are created equal. However we have house rules that adjust for this. Also this could be used to alter the difficulty. The final issue is, as with most co-op games, alpha gamers (those that try to dictate the entirety of the game) can be a problem. Playing with closed hands does mitigate this well though.
Pandemic has a fair amount of replay ability. With just the randomness of the cards, each game is unique. Also playing with different roles can significantly change the feel and strategy of the game. In addition there are three different expansions that add new roles, new rules, and new play styles.