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Does this pretty much ensure that every role will be chosen after two or three rounds? (Unless there is a huge surplus of roles to players.) Coins are valuable (in most aspects of the game) after all.

Put another way, is there ever a role so lacking in value that an inducement of two to three coins would not be enough to entice players to take it?

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"Unless there is a huge surplus of roles to players" implies that you may be doing something incorrect. The surplus of roles to players is ALWAYS 3; that cannot change. – GendoIkari Sep 18 '13 at 1:17
@GendoIkari: That's true. But if the relationship of roles to players is 5 to 2, that's a ratio of 2.5 to 1. If 8 to 5, that's 1.6 to 1. – Tom Au Sep 18 '13 at 1:49
Ah ok, that makes sense. – GendoIkari Sep 18 '13 at 2:04
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It has two purposes:

  1. As you say, it ensures that every role gets taken, and that no role goes entirely unloved for too long. There are multiple paths to victory in Puerto Rico, and most of them require some combination of roles to be taken: a shipping strategy requires Settler/Mayor to set up and Craftsman/Captain to execute, a building strategy requires Builder plus Craftsman/Trader (or some other income methods), etc. Putting coins on unloved roles means that if 3 players go for one strategy and one player goes for a different one, that one player's favorite roles (or unloved-but-required supporting roles) will still be chosen, even by people not following that player's strategy. It pushes all of the players at the table to make the game friendly to all strategies.
  2. Some roles are weaker than others, and putting money on the roles makes them more tempting. Craftsman is a classic "weak" role, because the person who takes it will usually have last choice in the next shipping/trading phase. (Unless they're clever with the end of the round and the movement of the Governor role.) This is mostly just fine-tuning the power of the various role cards: if some cards are weaker than others, then add a little cash so they're not quite so weak.
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I will also add, that is another way to put money on the game, since the only way to get money is trading or having a factory. – gbianchi Sep 17 '13 at 13:40

It is a game mechanic to make the value of the role placards change over the course of the game. From the Anniversary Edition rules (page 7)

Role placards with more doubloons will be more attractive to the players as they get the doubloons in addition to the privilege of the placard.

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Similar to Small World's placement of coins on unselected Race/Ability pairs, or No Thanks refusal chips on toxic waste cards. – user1873 Sep 17 '13 at 3:32

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