There have been a number of exceptional, stand-out crew over the years, from Captain Blackheart (the first SAC-captain) and Nemesio Diaz (the first canceler) back in Spanish Main, to Jonah in Crimson Coast, to Davy Jones in Ocean's Edge, all the way up through the Cargo Masters in Savage Shores. Often these stand-out crew were game-changers, and almost as often they were quickly duplicated by other nations in other sets, although a select few managed to remain truly unique. Davy Jones (DJC) is perhaps the best known, but there have been a handful of others too. The latest to join that elite club is the Savage Shores version of Bianco's Haulers, yet somehow they got lost in the shuffle and despite their power are seldom mentioned by anyone.
In their previous incarnation the Haulers provided a valuable assist when unloading cargo, but in their new form they provide an almost unsurpassed level of protection. Not only can they make almost any ship completely immune to cannon attacks (including Broadsides Attacks!), they do it for a mere three points. As an added bonus they're Spanish, which means they are never hurting for excellent ships to protect.
Uses and Strategies:
The beauty of Bianco's Haulers is that because they come in the form of a 3-point crew they can find a place on virtually any ship in your fleet, and they are every bit as valuable to a gunship as they are to a treasure runner.
The benefit to a treasure runner should be obvious. Since they spend much of their time docked at islands gathering treasure, the Haulers are a perfect addition. As long as you've got a couple masts to spare as protection from ramming attacks and a meat shield or two to keep the Haulers safe from boarders, they'll allow you to venture deep into hostile territory in relative safety.
They're potentially even more powerful on a gunship, although it can take a bit of extra effort to really make the most of them. The key is to island hop, and whenever possible to make your attacks while docked. That's easy enough to do when attacking treasure runners since islands are where they need to be, but opposing gunships could be a bit more tricky since they'll probably try to keep their distance from islands one they know what you've got. However, with a decent base move and an additional action generator you can still strike surprisingly far away while still being within range of a safe docking point. Add to that the fact that if an opposing gunship is staying as far away from islands as it can get, it's probably not doing its job protecting the treasure ships in its fleet, so your opponent may have a tough choice to make.
A third strategy that can really benefit from the Haulers is a home island raider. Normally being docked at an enemy home island is one of the most dangerous places a ship could ever be, but not so with the Haulers. You can drop in, casually help yourself to some loot, and your opponents can't do much of anything to you except sit there and wait for you to leave. They could of course try ramming you, but unless they manage to knock off all of your masts that way they're going to be in deep trouble - being pinned by an unshootable ship is a very bad place to be.
Regardless of which type of ship you equip with the Haulers, all that island-hopping has an additional benefit: it makes your ship highly resistant to the dreaded Mermaids, so you can load up on crew and still run around safely even if you didn't bring Favor of the Gods (or you've already used it).
Combos with other miniatures:
The combo potentials for Bianco's Haulers are nearly limitless since they can provide a significant benefit to almost any ship you might put in your fleet. So, instead I'll list the ones that are not good combos:
1) Single-masted ships of any kind. Protection from being shot is of course a bonus, but the Haulers don't protect from ramming so they're really easy to bypass. An opponent can simply smash into your unshootable ship, knock its only mast off, and then claim it as their own (or just let it sit there crippled for the rest of the game).
2) Nations that can't get Spanish crew on their ships without spending a fortune. This list of nations seemed to get shorter with every new set as new crew with the "Crew of any nationality may use their abilities on this ship" ability became more and more common, but some nations never did get one - or at most they got one or two ships with the ability built-in, which isn't nearly as versatile. That doesn't mean it's impossible for most of those other nations to use the Haulers, but to get them they usually need to chain together at least two other abilities to get them - generally one that allows Pirate or English crew, and then Crimson Angel or Brother Virgil to allow the Spaniards onboard. However, just because you can do it doesn't mean you should. If you're paying five or six (or more!) extra points and wasting at least two cargo spaces just to add a three-point crew, you're paying way too much. As great as the Haulers are, even they're not worth that much.
3) Ships that can't carry crew. Obviously the Haulers would be useless to the majority of sea creatures, since they lack the ability to carry crew and most even lack cargo space. The exceptions might be a sea monster with Chariot of the Gods or a titan like El Toro, but with the former a Captain would almost always be a better choice of crew and with the latter you're so limited on cargo space that finding room for the Haulers could be extremely difficult (it's a great combo if you can make it fit, though).
4) Ships that are too slow to island-hop. Perhaps just as obviously, if it takes a ship several turns just to go from one island to the next you're not going to get to use the Haulers much, and if there are no enemy ships nearby when you actually reach an island you won't get to use them at all. Slow ships like that are much better off investing the points in something like a nice Helmsman or Navigator - or both.
If you do want a more specific good combo, one in particular can be found in the crew linked to the Haulers, Master Bianco. There are tons of links between ships and crew available in this game, but aside from the crew that link with any ship of a nation and a small handful of notable specific links, most are based purely in flavor text and simply aren't worth putting together. The link with the Haulers is one of the few that is worthwhile, and is particularly notable in that you actually get two great options for the price of one. They can link with either version of Master Bianco, and while the effect that has on the Haulers is the same with both, the effect on the rest of your fleet is quite different. The SM version of Bianco merely benefits his own ship, but when combined with the Haulers still results in a net gain of cargo space because together they're adding two cargo spaces while only using one. The more expensive SS version of Master Bianco has the same effect on his own ship, but thanks to the Cargo Master keyword can boost several other ships in your fleet at the same time. As an added bonus he comes with the Secret Hold keyword, which is a nice extra bonus for a treasure-runner. Combined with the Haulers, that means while docked the ship can't be shot at and can't have any of its treasure taken away (be careful though, because your crew are still vulnerable to boardings).
One other semi-specific combo worth noting is the Home-Island Raider. Whether you get the ability from a crew or a ship, the Haulers will allow you to safely camp out at the opposing home island grabbing loot for far longer than you would normally. You do have to be careful when leaving, but that goes without saying whether you have the Haulers or not.
Beyond that, like I said at the beginning of this section almost any ship in the Spanish fleet (not to mention the countless other ships in other nationalities) can benefit greatly from the addition of the Haulers. No matter which ship you use or how you use it, as long as you remember to dock as often as possible the Haulers will provide a nearly unheard-of level of protection. If you're never going to dock you'd better leave them behind so they don't go to waste.
Ways to counteract it:
Other than catching the ship while it's out at sea, the only reliable ways to get rid of the Haulers are to cancel them or kill them.
Canceling them is easy, because you just need to get within S of the ship which also happens to be a perfect place to open fire - but beware, there's a good chance the Haulers could have a canceler of their own as backup, and then you could be in really big trouble.
Killing the Haulers is a little more reliable, but could be harder to pull off. Crew-killing abilities that trigger with cannon hits probably won't be much use, but boarding actions still work fine. The downside with boarding is that your chances of success will vary wildly depending on the size of the Haulers' ship and any potential boarding bonuses it might have, plus if there are any expendable crew onboard they'll almost certainly be killed before the Haulers, leaving your ship pinned by a ship it cannot shoot. However, if you can find a way to board them a couple times without becoming pinned, you ram & board with multiple ships in a single turn, you have an S-boarder, or you can kill all of a ship's crew at once, you should be able to get to them sooner or later.
Challenging the Haulers to a Duel is another option, but unless they've repeatedly been a major thorn in your side, there's likely to be a much better target out there somewhere (like a Captain of some sort).
If you find your opponents regularly using the Haulers on their treasure-runners it can be worth it to add a few anti-crew unique treasures into the pool, like Plague, Missionary, Cannibals, Cursed Natives, etc., but be careful that whichever UTs you choose aren't going to come back and hurt your own treasure-runners and crew just as much (or even more).
Other than three seldom-used ships with the ability built-in (Carthage, Coral, and La Academia), there really is no direct competition for Bianco's Haulers.
Parley is perhaps the closest match, and while unlike the Haulers it will work out at sea, it comes with the not-so-insignificant downside that you have to give away gold every time you use it. Rely on it more than a few times and you'll be literally handing victory to your opponent.
The "this ship cannot be shot at by ships within S" ability is similar as well and like Parley also works at sea, but it's much more expensive and is easy enough to work around if you have L-range cannons. More importantly, it's not available directly on any crew so unless your name is Davy Jones you're stuck with it on the ships that have it built-in.
One other competitor, which has never before been named in a "Competition" section, is your home island. It provides the exact same benefit as the Haulers but it lacks their mobility. On the other hand, it can't be canceled, it works on all of your docked ships at once, and you get it for free whether you want it or not.
-They have an excellent cost-to-benefit ratio, because they provide such a high level of protection for a mere three points.
-Because of their low cost they are extremely versatile, and work well on almost any ship in the game whether it's a treasure-runner, a gunship, or anything else in between.
-They can remain facedown until you need them, which can lead to a very unpleasant surprise for an opponent that thought your docked ship was easy prey.
-Their link is actually good enough to be worth using - and you get two equally good options for the price of one.
-They're useless if your ship isn't docked.
-Like most crew, they can be killed.
-You can't use both versions of the haulers at once.
-They appeared at the very end of the game (Savage Shores), so they may be tough to find.
Flavor Text, Artwork, and Aesthetics:
"With threats from Master Bianco tying their fate to his own, Bianco's Haulers do their best to ensure the safety of their ship as they furiously attempt to gather enough treasure to replace what was once skimmed from Spain."
While it's somewhat hard to see on the token itself, the larger version of the image for the Haulers shows a very nice level of detail that you don't always get on crew tokens. Even though only three men are shown in the picture it's safe to assume there are more of them, and judging by the looks on these faces you don't want to get on their bad side. They're clearly not happy with the "arrangement" they're stuck in with Mister Bianco, and it shows.
It looks like they've lost a bit of weight since their last appearance too, which isn't surprising with their cash flow cut off.
I honestly have a hard time finding anything at all that's wrong with this version of Bianco's Haulers, because it is such an exceptional and versatile crew. Even the weaknesses listed above are minor things that generally won't matter at all or at worst are easy to work around.
Players that don't like using Spanish ships may find it difficult to justify the points needed to use this crew on other ships, but for everyone else, rating it any lower than a 10/10 would be underselling it.