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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Do you like to drive a hard deal on trading, or are you open to a more 1-for-1
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
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
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.
Oh and don't be shy, come join us across our social channels! Become a Catanian