Many Canadians know Rex Murphy as the veteran journalist and political commentator with the distinctive Newfoundland accent who hosts a weekly, national call-in show.
Arkham Horror players are more familiar with his fictional namesake – an Akham Advertiser reporter who learns the horrible truth about his cursed family lineage from a bony Lithuanian gypsy, and watches helplessly on the coast of Innsmouth as the last of his carefully collected photographs and other evidence documenting the Mythos blows out to sea.
As much as I’d like to delve deeper into the former Murphy’s acclaimed documentaries and biting political commentary, it’s the latter Murphy who has vexed me of late.
Released in the Kingsport Horror expansion, Rex Murphy is unlike most investigators in the game in that he is flawed from the opening gate. A reporter of prodigious skill, Murphy ability to uncover clues to the Ancient Ones’ evil intent for Arkham makes Darrel Simmons look like a muckraking yellow journalist by comparison. Yet he does bearing a tremendous burden, a family curse that would undermine his efforts to expose the truth at every turn.
Given a choice between the two investigators, I suspect most players would choose Simmons over Murphy, if only to avoid being hamstrung by Murphy’s debilitating flaw. Flawed he may be, but Murphy’s dogged determination of the truth in spite of the cosmic odds stacked against him make the goateed reporter one of Arkham Horror’s more interesting investigator’s to play, and a fitting subject for this week’s The Horror! The Horror!
I have a love-hate relationship with Rex Murphy. I love Murphy because he’s a reporter, a profession I know a little about. However, I really hated playing him, and I’ve been playing with him a lot of late.
When I play Arkham Horror, I usually play solo with four investigators, randomly selected from all the investigators released in the base game and expansions. Murphy has turned up in my starting four in four of my last 10 games.
Normally, I wouldn’t complain because I’ve enjoyed playing most of the investigators at one time or another. However, I’ve embarked on a 23-game series in which the featured herald is The Dark Pharaoh from the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh (Revised Edition) expansion. It this type of environment, Murphy borders on a liability.
I realized the problem immediately after I drew Murphy in the opening game. The second time I pulled him, I thought myself to be a bit unlucky. The third time Murphy appeared in my opening draw, it was against none other than his arch-nemesis, Ghatanothoa. It’s about then that I put my head my hands and muttered, “Why can’t I catch just one break?” After his fourth appearance, I began to wonder whether there might be a board game curse somewhere in my family’s past.
Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot to like about Rex Murphy. His stats are decent and his starting equipment is impressive: 3 Clue tokens, 1 Common Item, 2 Unique Items, 2 Spells and 1 Skill. To top it all off, his Investigation ability – gaining him an extra Clue token whenever he gains Clue tokens – is among the best in the game. Of course, Murphy’s bountiful haul of starting equipment and amazing powers of investigation come with a significant catch: he is Cursed at the start of the game. And worse, unlike his colleague Sister Mary who must check to hang onto her Blessing during Upkeep, Murphy never checks to discard Curses. The only way Murphy can get rid of his Curse is to be Blessed.
Of all the nastiness that Arkham Horror can throw at the Investigators, the Curse is among the worst in my book. Curses – which force players to roll 6s to score successes – can hamstring an unprepared investigator for at least two turns, and quite possibly a lot longer, while the player determines a) the best way to remove the Curse and, b) what to do in the event that the Curse cannot be removed expediently. An ill-timed Curse can also swing a game destined for victory in the Mythos’ favour. That gate your investigator planned to seal last turn, it’s still open because you couldn’t roll a six and now there are monsters pouring out it. That monster you planned to remove from the French Hill Streets to free up movement, it’s still a roadblock and the investigator who attacked it is insane, unconscious or worse.
If that’s not bad enough, The Dark Pharaoh makes the task of removing curses all the more urgent. The Dark Pharaoh’s Blood Will Boil ability causes each cursed investigator to lose 1 Stamina during Upkeep. Barring outside intervention, Murphy has five turns to remove the curse before he is knocked unconscious and, quite possibly, locked in a permanent coma at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Not surprisingly, the prospect of watching an investigator bounce in or out of a coma for the next 3+ hours doesn’t appeal to most players. It’s especially cruel to new players who are unfamiliar with the myriad of items and encounters that can help Rex Murphy not only survive the Dark Pharaoh’s onslaught, but also be a contributing member of the team.
KEEPING MURPHY ALIVE
Keeping Murphy alive is the top priority until the curse is removed, especially against the Dark Pharaoh. Fortunately, there are many options available, some better than others.
Vincent Lee and Leo Anderson can use their Physician and Leadership abilities, respectively, to prevent Murphy from bleeding Stamina to Blood Will Boil. Leadership is more flexible than Physician, which requires Lee to be with Murphy during Upkeep. However, I prefer to avoi burning Leadership during Upkeep and save it for the frequent emergencies that pop up during the remainder of the turn.
The investigators’ starting equipment usually includes some Stamina-related gear, such as Food, Enchanted Jewelry and the Obsidian Statue. The spells Heal and Flesh Ward are short-term options at best, since Murphy must burn through his Sanity to cast them. The Healing Stone is a huge boon, allowing Murphy to weather the Stamina loss from Blood Will Boil almost indefinitely.
As for Arkham’s locations, St. Mary’s Hospital is the obvious choice for keeping Murphy alive. In the base game and the Curse of the Dark Pharaoh expansion, there are also five St. Mary’s encounters that give Murphy a chance to use his Investigation ability to pick up extra Clues if he’s not paying a visit to the doctor. That said, most players would prefer to take more constructive actions with Murphy rather than hang out at the hospital. Also, St. Mary’s proximity to the Woods means an investigator risk getting trapped in the hospital if monsters control the Uptown Streets.
Velma’s Diner is another option to keep Murphy feeling hale and hearty, although it requires more luck than the hospital. Three of seven base game encounters and two of five expansion encounters offer stamina. Velma’s Diner also offers Murphy a shot at receiving a Blessinge, which should not be overlooked.
Ma’s Boarding House can give Murphy some Stamina in a pinch, although the odds are more unfavourably than the previous two locations.
BREAKING THE CURSE
Breaking Murphy’s Curse can take as little as one turn under the right circumstances. However, in my experience it usually takes longer than that for the other investigators to round up enough monster trophies or a gate trophy to exchange for a blessing at South Church.
Two investigators offer Murphy hope for immediate relief. Akachi Onyele receives a gate trophy in her starting equipment that she can exchange for a Blessing at South Church. William Yorick’s home is South Church and he starts with three monster trophies, although not necessarily five toughness worth needed for a blessing.
If those options are unavailable, Murphy can try to break the curse himself. South Church seems like the obvious place to start, but it’s a terrible place for a cursed investigator to explore. Only one in seven encounter cards in the base game provide a blessing, and most of the others require investigators to make skill checks that really punish failure. Murphy would be better off hanging out at Velma’s Diner. The Curse of the Dark Pharaoh location encounters do little to help matters. One requires Murphy to have either a Cross or Holy Water in his possession to remove his curse. Another requires him to pass a Will (+0)  check to be blessed, an unlikely event considering Murphy’s base Will maxes out 3.
No, Murphy’s best bet to remove his Curse – provided you’re playing with Curse of the Dark Pharaoh – lies at the house of finance, not faith. Four of five expansion encounters at the Bank of Arkham offer Murphy a chance at a quick redemption.
Another option is to put the Curse to good use and have Murphy plunder the Exhibit Item deck. The Dark Pharaoh can’t curse a cursed investigator. With the right support cards, it might work, although I haven’t tested it yet.
If neither of those options is appealing, the Newspaper, which also happens to be Murphy’s starting location, is among the safest locations in Arkham to park a cursed investigator for a few turns. Any location that offers plentiful Clue tokens, piles of money and few potentially damaging die rolls is tailor-made for Murphy. Make sure to maximize his luck to maximize his chance of a favourable encounter.
I certain there are many options I've missed, but I hope the ideas mentioned above will make the prospect of playing Rex Murphy less intimidating, especially for players dealing with him for the first time.
After playing four games against the Dark Herald with Murphy, I will no longer throw up my hands in despair if I draw him in future games. My record is only 2-2, but I at least I know there isn't a board gaming curse in my past that is undermining my attempts to keep the Ancient Ones at bay.