In Traders of Carthage, players are merchants who are attempting to ship four different types of goods from Alexandria to Carthage. Players affect how quickly or slowly the ships move and can trigger pirate raids that may cost their opponents their goods. (Traders of Osaka moves the gameplay to a new continent and era, with players now trying to deliver cargo from Osaka to Edo, but otherwise gameplay remains the same.)
The game is a set collection game at its core. Players are attempting to collect sets of goods that will allow them to collect cards that will be worth points at the end of the game.
During the game, the cards can be used to represent goods when laid out in front of players, to represent gold to purchase goods when played from their hands or urns which players will use to protect goods from pirates. Deciding how to use the cards and when is the basis of playing the game.