Today therefore I want to talk about the concept of the alpha strike, or more appropriately perhaps the alpha distraction. By that I mean either in the first case, hitting the enemy so hard on turn one they never recover, or in the latter, providing them with such a threat they lose focus on the real problem.
In 6th edition, this concept lost some of its power, with only troops units being able to secure objectives the real threat to the game was always the troops units, and focusing fire on those meant you had a better than evens chance of winning. Rumour has it though that 7th edition will allow any units in a battle forged army to claim objectives, and so the alpha concept is back on the table as a game changing strategy.
How do you achieve it then? Well the army that excels at the alpha strike is space marines, as drop pods provide an unparalleled opportunity to get a lot of units in range of your opponent on turn one. Also as you can decide which drop pods to deploy you can place the correct unit in the correct place to counter any threat your opponent has.
Other factions however, don't have quite the same facility to deliver troops in this manner, so the alpha strike either needs to be long ranged firepower such as that employed by tau and guard, or you need to find another method of keeping your units safe. The alternative here is the alpha distraction, or in other words, putting something scary in a threatening position so your opponent has to focus on it.
Some ideal units I've faced in this regard include pretty much any fast moving monstrous creature (winged hive tyrants/daemon princes for example), and the larger kits currently being wheeled out by GW, such as the riptide, wraithknight (yes I know these are classed as monstrous creatures but that definition is stretched rather I think) and baneblade. Think about it, if you've got one (or two) bloodthirsters about to descend on your guard command squad, you're going to want to do something about them, and you're not going to focus on anything else until they're dead. Now as the player employing that alpha distraction the downsides are that a) you are probably going to lose that unit, no matter how tough it might be, and b) if you make it too tough, it might get ignored. The wraithknight is the perfect example here, as it's completely immune to many normal guns in the game. Would you waste a 170 point tactical squad's shooting for one missile/plasma/lascannon/melta shot at a model it only has a 50/50 ish chance of wounding even with a direct hit? I wouldn't, especially considering it's still got five more to lose!
So wounding it needs to be possible, and that's where the riptide and hive tyrants fit in - generally speaking most players will throw masses of dice at them just to get a single wound through, when that firepower is better directed at troops units who are more of a threat to the game result. I have a tactical squad with two plasma guns and a plasma cannon, they stand a decent chance of causing at least two wounds, and massed fire combined with a bit of heavier firepower would convince me to shoot more stuff at them in the hopes of downing them.
So turn 1 is done, your threat is either dead having weathered a hail of fire, or it's still alive but only just. Conversely though, your troops units have survived a turn unscathed, and are that much closer to their objectives than they were, still at full strength and ready to unleash massed firepower on the enemy next turn (I would say decimating them but I'd hope to kill more than 1 in 10!)
So in conclusion then, the alpha concept is either a) punch them in the nuts early, then kick em while they're down, or b) send in the playground bully, and while he's distracting them, nick their lunch money.
Here a few more units that can perform these roles well.
Dreadnoughts, sternguard, dreadknights, imperial knights, basilisks, almost any monstrous creature and big-ass tanks.