Learn CATAN from the defending World Champion!
Hey Catanians! Captain Beard here, it’s a very special week here on the isle of Catan. Between November 18-20 it is the Catan World Championships. To celebrate we reached out to the current defending world Champion – Quetzal Hernández.
Quetzal was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, and outside of being a Catan World Champion he’s a molecular biologist and computer scientist. You’ll find out lots more about Quetzal and his rise to Catan World Champion throughout the interview and we hope that some of the tips and tricks he shares will help you when you come to play CATAN – Console Edition, Onward!
What’s your go-to strategy when starting a new game?
I’d start by trying to establish what will be the scarcest resource. From this, we can think about strategy and where to place our initial settlements. Those initial decisions will impact the pace of the game.
What is the number 1 tip you’d give players who are new to CATAN?
Have as much fun as possible of course! But regarding the game I’d say use your resources and cards, the game is always evolving, and hoarding them will rarely help.
Most common mistake they see made particularly among newer players?
I’d say the use of the robber tends to be the area I see mistakes from new players most often. The robber has various uses throughout a game and should initially be used to gain an advantage in resources, and improve your opportunity to build and negotiate. Then later in the game to block the player with the advantage.
Is it worth making allies around the board? Or do you try to play as a Solo Catanian?
CATAN at its core is a social game, being friendly, open, and kind will reflect in more exchanges and trades and will lead to more victories. In highly competitive games of course it will pay that you are able to depend only on yourself, but it’s going to really help if you are open to negotiating with your opponents.
Do you look to build longest road sooner or later in a game?
“The shortest road to victory is the longest road”. It depends totally on the state of the board, so it will be when I can, or it’s logical strategy wise. Ultimately you should be ready and able to adapt your play style in an instant as the game evolves.
Do you go out of your way to block other players on the board, or do you play more passively?
Violence and hostility is not my trademark play style and I would try everything else before thinking about blocking other players, but of course, if the chance is there and it’s an optimal play, I will not hesitate for a second.
Do you try to build more settlements or upgrade what you have to cities first?
It all comes down to what’s the optimal play. For me, this is “what is the best advantage I can gain on this turn with what I have or what I can negotiate”. I am an “always forward” player and I will always try to spend everything I have as fast as I can. The city almost always becomes necessary at some point, but I’d rather go wide with settlements and development cards first, trying for the city to come more naturally through the roll of dice than waiting and hoarding or accepting suboptimal trades with other players to get the resources.
Do you prefer to control the specific-resource harbours, or the general harbours?
I’d always aim for the harbour available and open that’s in proximity to my initial strategy and settlement placements. But I won’t lie, every time after checking the options, I always think about the sheep harbour. It has provided me with the most significant and fun victories of my life, including the win that got me to the finals in the last World Championships. If I need to risk it for the biscuit, I will be betting on the sheep harbour. In the port of the gods, I will make my faith sacrifice.
What resources do you aim for first, or move to gain easier?
“No wheat, means defeat”. I will always look for a way to have wheat just because 4 of the 5 possible build actions require it.
Any specific tips about using the Robber?
The Robber blocks the production of a tile and steals a random resource from a player’s hand, it means it can be used to:
* Delay someone who is competing with you to build in a place on the board. * Steal exactly the resource you need.
* Stop the generation of a specific resource for one or more players, even from the game completely.
* Diminish the advantage of a player with the best position in buildings and production on the board.
* Change the state of the game to create a better trading position for you.
You can defend yourself from the robber by having several development cards available, having different tiles of the same resource production, having a port to exchange surplus for another resource, or simply by having a surplus of another resource.
And there are social ways. Try just asking not to be the victim of the robber (It works from time to time). Suggest another player who has what the robber mover needs. Put forward your argument for who the robber mover could block that would provide the robber mover with the best tactical advantage (so long as it’s not you!). Remind the robber mover that you have downside development cards and implicate retaliation. Something as simple as to tap theatrically your downside development card, eye contact, and a nod can deter a player from using the robber on you.
Any other tips you have for new or experienced players?
Always keep track of at least the last round of dice rolls, it will tell you what resources are available from other players, what you can trade, and who with. Oh, and if you can memorise multiple rounds of dice rolls you’ll be able to keep track of exactly what resources players have, what they’ll likely be able to do on their next turn, and this my children will provide you with all the information you need for your plays, commerce, the robber!
Which development cards do you most often hope to draw?
Road Building: Value of 4 resources for just 3 that you spend on the development card, it opens the board to you, provides ways to build your next settlement faster or farthest, can give you the longest road or a chance to compete for it. It also provides an opportunity to block other players and set resources free for other plays. I always want a road building card.
But of course, I am cursed and my first card will almost always be a Victory point, that is the worst at the beginning and middle game, it does not change anything on the board, and does not provide any kind of real advantage. Anything that changes the board state to your favour will always be better.
Now we’ve gotten some amazing tips and tricks, let’s get to know the person behind the CATAN World Champion and find out a bit more about the human that is Quetzal Hernández.
How did you get into playing CATAN/how was it introduced to you?
This was back in 98, Catan was a “recent game” and in Mexico it was very popular: I started to be a regular player in a comic book/ tabletop gaming store near my high school playing world of darkness RPGs and Magic the Gathering, but there was this board game so new, so amazing that it became a sensation across the nation, Settlers of CATAN. The “elders” and “big players” were having a blast at it. Then a group of friends and I had the chance to play and learn it. Boy oh boy it blew our 15-year-old minds. There was nothing like it on the sweet green face of earth.
How long have you been playing CATAN?
In February it will be 25 years. (DAMN!)
What's your favourite thing about CATAN?
The shared experience. From those days when new friends from outside the school and me played without fully knowing the rules, to the World and Continental Championships over the last few years.
I realised that everyone in the world, from Argentina to Hong-Kong, no matter language, age, religion, pronouns, we all share that childlike fascination for the thrills, the luck, the interaction, the highs, the lows, and everything that you leave at the table. This being high stakes ultra-mental competition or just smiles and playing for fun. We share not just that, but the stories of how we found our way to the game, they are so painfully similar. It really shows how similar we are and how we want to join others in this mutual love of playing Catan. It speaks of course to how unique the game is too.
What colour do you pick?
This started because no one wanted the orange colour pieces. Everyone fights to be red, or blue. I just wanted to play so I took the orange every time. Over the years, it has become “my signature colour” for Catan and any board game with coloured pieces.
What do you think it takes to be a world champion in CATAN?
Besides memory, control of your plays and board knowledge regarding probability and optimal strategy, I totally believe the most important thing is to be kind and have fun. It is a social game and those attitudes are a reflection of a lot of things that happen in-game and outside the game. It is almost a rule to be champion in this game, any exception is extraordinary.
You can see it in the past world champions, in the national and continental champions from all around the world through the ages, and I hope you can see it in me too. You need to play like a demon, yes, but it is nothing if you are not the one having more fun and being kind. That is the lesson of the shared experience, of the common ground in our histories and what we love in the game. The statistics are there; more commerce, more wins, more openness, more commerce. To have the sympathy of the other players at the table and through the whole tournament and outside of it is the clear pathway to get that, there is only so much of it that you can fake. What else can you do? Have the time of your life and be a better person. There is no other situation in the world where everyone is more equal to everyone else, in what we want and how to do it than at a board game table.
What’s your favourite version of CATAN?
The base game, after almost 25 years the fun never stops. But must say, I am partial to the Fishermen of Catan expansion, it flattens the probabilities of the board and provides an additional layer of strategy without being more complicated. The old boot detail is delicious. I also really love the Crop Trust scenario about the seed bank, about the future, the cold and hard mechanic that the use of resources will barren the land, and that investing in the recovery of the crops and resources is a way to win the game. I love everything about the message and its possibilities.
What’s it like during the holidays when you want to play board games with friends and family and how does playing with friends/family differ from competitions?
I am blessed that my regular friend’s table included 4 other World Championship players (3 of them women, 1 of which was top eight in the 2016 worlds) and National Champions or world top-ranked in other games, so they were never scared to play with me, mostly because I built up in their lessons and victories.
My 3 younger sisters do not like the hard-core competitive approach to the games, so we enjoy cooperative and narrative games when we play.
Right now, the experience with friends and family is no different from the tournaments besides the stakes, because the main purpose is the same, to have an amazing time playing to the best of our capabilities with people we love or want to love.
Do you like to drive a hard deal on trading, or are you open to a more 1-for-1 approach?
The idea is always forward. The memory, knowledge of the game, and the board state tells you how hard you can go. It never hurts to ask for more under the right circumstances, but anything that will help you without providing a potentially fatal advantage to another player is well received. Cooperation is part of the core fundamentals of the game.
Describe a time you've been surprised by someone doing something unexpectedly brilliant.
Worlds 2018, Ryotaro from Japan who progressed in first place to the semi-finals with 4 victories. He spoke only Japanese so used a real-time translator on his smartphone. His strategy was to break the possibilities of the dice and depend fully on it, with pen and paper all the time for his calculations. He was making “weird” exchanges all the time, giving up to 3 cards because probability dictated that he was going to get optimal plays in the short term if he obtained certain resources that instant.
Betting on the future and the more probable outcomes of the dice. His perdition was when people realised this and stopped falling for it. Without a way to communicate more openly or modify the perception around his strategy, he failed. Genius moves but going all-in with a single strategy in Catan is a hard thing to do.
I tried to apply this to my games, but I am an unlucky person and the dice will always do something unexpected. I can strategise based on probability and tendency, but never in a standard curve of the dice. That is why my way to play is to always be in the moment. If I plan anything different, the gods will laugh. This genius from Ryotaro is now a consideration for me on how the table can change so I can make better decisions on the spot.
We want to say a massive thank you to Quetzal for taking the time to speak with us and we wish you all the luck in the upcoming CATAN World Championships that are taking place in Malta between November 18th-20th. We also hope you get to play as Orange and that your first Development Card is Road Building!
You can tune into the live stream on November 20th at 7am ET, 1pm CET and 12pm GMT here: CATAN World Championships 2022
You can Wishlist CATAN – Console Edition right now on Xbox & PlayStation right now via our website www.catanconsoleedition.com
See you down the road, Catanian’s.
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