Pokémon GO’s incredible success is undeniable. Nintendo has struck gold with its combination of pokémon hunting in the real world using augmented reality.

As brilliantly fun and simple as the game is, Pokémon GO does a poor job explaining its mechanics. Professor Willow may be distractingly handsome, but there’s a lot of missing information out there. Thankfully since everyone’s playing Pokémon GO, we’ve figured everything out. Mostly.

Go Forth and Catch ‘Em All

The first and most important tip is safety. I know, I want to roll my eyes too. But being distracted by your phone while walking around can lead to some embarrassing or even potentially dangerous situations. And make sure you’re not the one driving if you’re traveling by car. Use a friend, and help them out by finding pokémon on their phone as well!

pokemon goLet’s break down the main screen. In the lower right corner up to three pokémon (or silhouettes if they’re new) can be seen. These are the pokemon nearest your current location. Click to expand the window. Notice the number of paw prints underneath each one, from 1 to 3. The less paws, the closer you’re getting to that pokémon. Positioning of the pokémon on this 3×3 grid matters as well. Basically the one in the upper left is closest, while the lower right is farthest (read Paul Tassi’s excellent breakdown on Forbes).

On the map screen look for rustling leaves – that’s the sign of a nearby pokémon!

When you find a pokémon, the map view shifts to the AR camera (which you can turn off). In the regular games you battle and weaken pokémon before capturing them. Here you simply throw pokéballs. But like the game itself, it’s trickier than it appears.

When you select your pokéball a white circle appears around the prospective pokémon, while an inner colored circle begins shrinking. The goal is to time your throw so your ball lands in the colored circle. If you can land your pokéball when the circle is as small as possible, you’ll get a bigger XP bonus. If you can’t even make it inside the larger white circle, you’ll miss.

The color of the inner circle is usually tied to the strength and rarity of the pokémon. Green is easiest, then yellow, then the rare reds. Expect the red ones to take at least several pokéballs to successfully capture.

You can also earn some extra XP with a curveball. Swirl your finger around the pokéball before throwing it, and soon you’ll be the King Felix of Pokéballs.

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The initial excitement of low level common pokémon quickly wears off. But keep at it. Every capture nets XP, candy, and stardust. And collecting lots of one pokémon gives you easy access to evolving, which leads to more XP.

Although, screw Zubats. Seriously, those flying bastards will dodge your pokéballs and practically laugh at your feeble attempts just like the dog from Duck Hunt when I was 7.

Power Up and Evolve

There are two main resources used in your pokémon training: stardust and candy. Stardust is used to power up a pokémon, increasing its CP (Combat Power). Candy is unique to each pokémon, though evolution strains share the same one. For example, Pidgey Candy is used to evolve Pidgey into Pidgeotto, and later Pidgeot.

pokemon goYou earn both candy and stardust whenever you capture a pokémon. You can earn additional candy by transferring a pokémon to Professor Willow. This essentially trashes the pokémon, and it’s a good way to get rid of all those common duplicates you’ve been finding.

Candy is used to evolve pokémon. A good tactic is to evolve some of the easier, low level pokémon like Rattata and Pidgey. Each evolution nets you a solid 500xp, even if you’re not going to use them.

Note that it’s tempting to start powering up the first spiffy pokémon you find. But it’s easy to find a wild one that’s even stronger, rendering all that stardust you spent useless. There’s no solid tactic here but I’d advise holding off in the early game at the very least until you have some evolved pokémon.

PokéStops and Gyms

There are two other things that appear on the map besides the treasured pokémon: PokéStops and gyms.

PokéStops are various landmarks and notable areas like statues, fountains, buildings, and churches. Select them when nearby and spin the circle in the middle to generate some free items. PokéStops reset after a few minutes, so devise a nice little round-trip through a bunch of them to quickly grab items, and sometimes a pokémon egg.

Look for PokéStops with pink flowers around them – that’s the sign of a lure. Anyone can attach a lure module to a PokéStop (purchased in the store), making pokémon appear more frequently around that location.

Gyms are where all your hard work and training pays off. They’re often in popular places where people gather, like restaurants, post offices, and shopping centers. You can’t interact with a gym until level 5. At level 5 you join one of three colored teams, creating a global, team-based competition.

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Approach a gym and enter in your best pokémon to battle the current leader. There’s a bit of a mini-game with the actual battling involving dodging and filling up a meter to unleash your super move. It’s pretty simple. I’d advise not going button-mash crazy as this tends to lead to server issues, which have plagued the app since launch.

In order to actually take over a gym for your team you have to lower the other team’s reputation through repeated battles. Every team’s in it together. If you manage to control a gym and hold it, you can earn rewards, but it’s also pretty difficult.

Use Your Items

The most common item is the pokéball, and you’ll be going through them like crazy. Later on you can earn better pokéballs and items for capturing hard-to-get pokémon.

You can earn eggs from PokéStops. Assign an egg to your incubator in your item screen. Eggs hatch after a certain amount of distance has been traveled (with the app open). The more distance it requires, the better the egg’s reward. If you’re serious about Pokémon GO, purchasing additional incubators may be worth investing in.

Note that the system uses actual GPS, not a pedometer, so you actually have to cover some distance. Some folks have been quite creative in generating this distance, including attaching their phone to their dogs.


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Incense attracts pokémon to your location for 30 minutes, and everyone starts with two of them. It’s a fantastic item that you should use whenever going on a serious Pokémon GO run. You can even sit in your home and let them come to you, but you’ll probably only net half a dozen commons.

Finally, use the battery saver option in the menu on longer treks. Turn your brightness down if you can. Pokemon GO is a system hog, and requires you be running the app to find pokémon. Nothing worse than having your phone die right when you see a new rare for the first time.

This article was written by

Eric has been writing for over nine years with bylines at Dicebreaker, Pixelkin, Polygon, PC Gamer, Tabletop Gaming magazine, and more covering movies, TV shows, video games, tabletop games, and tech. He reviews and live streams D&D adventures every week on his YouTube channel. He also makes a mean tuna quesadilla.