Each player portrays a prince for Catan, developing their individual provinces and competing to build a more successful province than the other. The basic mode of play is similar to the original Catan Card Game, where players expand their provinces by building settlements connected by roads. Players may also build expansions in their settlements that aid them in various ways, or upgrade their settlements to cities to allow more expansions to be built. They build these additions by using resources that they accumulate each turn, which are determined by the roll of a die. Cards are drawn on each turn to replenish the players' hands. The players may also use action cards that directly affect either their own province or their opponent's province.
The Rivals for Catan features a reduced pool of cards, without the more aggressive style of action cards found in the original Catan Card Game. Therefore, all action cards will be able to be used from the beginning of the game unlike in the original card game.