The ultimate guide to Pokémon Go – Quartz

Pokémon are taking over the world.

In spite of crippling server issues and gruesome discoveries, Pokémon Go has soared to the top of app charts, added billions to the market value of Nintendo, and sold millions of dollars of Pokéballs and other virtual goods, as people engage in nostalgia for the original Pokémon games and discover the joys of playing games in public.

The game is deceptively complex. At first, it seems like all you do is wander around, catching random fake animals. But unlike many mobile games, Pokémon Go leaves most of its complexity unexplained. Much like in life itself, you are dropped into a world that you must master at the same time as you figure out how it works.

Well, there may be no guide to real life, but here is a guide to Pokémon Go. It will help get you from beginner to advanced Pokémon trainer, level up, and catch ’em all.

Table of PokéContents

The player

Pokémon Go is a bit different from earlier games in the series, because the Pokémon trainer—the little character you make at the beginning of the game—gains experience points to increase his or her level. In the original games, each Pokémon has its own experience points and level, but not so in Go.

There are two main reasons you want to get to a higher level:

  • As your level increases, you will encounter and be able to catch more and stronger Pokémon.
  • Handy items get unlocked at certain levels. The Razz Berry, for example, which makes Pokémon easier to catch, is unlocked at level 8.

Here are all the ways you can gain experience points (we’ll explain how to do these things):

Lucky Eggs

A very useful item for leveling up is the Lucky Egg. Using an egg sets off a 30-minute timer, during which you will gain double experience points. Be sure to use this wisely by consulting the table above to see which high-XP tasks you can finish in that 30-minute window. You might time a Lucky Egg with several Pokémon evolutions, or alongside a lure that sends lots of Pokémon your way, to get the most bang for your buck.

One Lucky Egg is awarded at level 9, and others at subsequent levels. Lucky Eggs can also be purchased at the store with PokéCoins.

Catching Pokémon

At the core of the game is, of course, catching Pokémon. Here’s everything you need to know to catch ’em all.

Catch a Pikachu: Like the original games, when you start playing Pokémon Go, you can choose one of three Pokémon as your first companion: Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. But there’s a hidden fourth option, too: Pikachu. To get a Pikachu, you just need a little patience. You have to ignore the first three Pokémon presented to you by Professor Willow and simply walk away. The three Pokémon will follow you around for a bit and then disappear before reappearing. Do this four times, and a Pikachu will eventually show up. Then you capture it. Catching Pikachu doesn’t appear to have a strategic advantage, since you’ll likely encounter stronger ones later on, but why miss an opportunity to hang out from the outset?

Find nearby Pokémon: To see what Pokémon are lurking nearby, look at the bottom-right corner of your screen. Clicking that menu will show outlines of up to nine nearby Pokémon, along with one to three footprints underneath each of them. The fewer footprints there are, the closer the Pokémon is. The Pokémon in this menu are also sorted by distance. The one on the top-left is closest to you while the one on the bottom-right is farthest.

Nearby Pokémon

How to throw a Pokéball: Unlike the original games, you don’t battle wild Pokémon in Go. Instead, you jump straight to capturing them, which really just means flicking a Pokéball on your phone screen at a Pokémon. Toss it too near or too far, and the Pokéball won’t do anything. You have to get it just right by actually hitting the Pokémon. When you press on a Pokéball, a ring shows up around the Pokémon. A green ring means the Pokémon is easy to catch, while a red one means it’s tougher to catch. The rings also change in size as you hold down a Pokéball. Your odds are improved, especially for harder-to-catch Pokémon, if the ring is smaller when you release the Pokéball.

Catching a Jigglypuff

Throw a curve ball: Curve balls aren’t just stylish, they also increase a player’s experience points if the technique results in a capture. To initiate a curve ball, move your finger in small circles on the screen while touching the ball and then toss it. It’s still unclear if curveballs actually increase the chances of capturing a Pokémon, though they do definitely give you an XP bonus. Some players say that’s the case, while others report it’s harder.

Supercharged Pokéballs: Once players surpass level 11, they’ll start to collect Great Balls and Ultra Balls at PokéStops, which are more effective at capturing wild Pokémon, particularly the rarer ones.

Turn off AR: Turning off the camera (the augmented-reality layer) has helped some players capture Pokémon more successfully. With AR off, Pokémon are shown in the middle of the screen, making them easier targets. It’s less fun, though.

Lure out Pokémon: The items Incense and Lure Module draw Pokémon out from hiding. The Lure Module is more potent and can be attached to a specific location for a period of time. A PokéStop with an attached Lure Module is marked by fluttering pink petals. Lure Modules make PokéStops good places to find and catch Pokémon. As you wander around, you’ll see Lure Modules put down by other players, and you’ll probably see lots of other people hanging around them.

Lure Module in action

Catch ’em all: In Pokémon Go, quantity is key. You might not want a whole flock of Zubats, but there’s strength in numbers—or more specifically Stardust and Candy. When you capture Pokémon, you’ll receive both items, which are used, respectively, to power up and evolve Pokémon. Stardust can be used on any of your Pokémon, but the kind of Candy you get is specific to the species (e.g., you get Zubat Candy when you capture a Zubat). Generally, you get about 5 to 10 pieces of Candy when you catch the first of a species and then 3 to 5 for subsequent catches. You also get a piece of Candy when you transfer a Pokémon to Professor Willow.

Pokédex: The Pokédex, which you access by tapping the Pokéball on the main screen, keeps track of your Pokémon and shows how many species you’ve yet to encounter. For species of Pokémon you’ve seen and caught, the Pokédex will show detailed information, including its weight, height, type, and evolutionary chain (e.g., Charmander evolves into Charmeleon, which evolves into Charizard).

Training Pokémon

Once you catch a Pokémon, it’s your job as a trainer to, well, train it. There are three aspects of a Pokémon to keep in mind when training in Go:

  • Stats. CP, or Combat Points, is by far the most important of a Pokémon’s stats, and determines how much damage it deals in battle. There is also the Hit Points (HP) stat, which is the amount of damage a Pokémon can take, but HP tracks closely to CP, and the two upgrade simultaneously, so it’s fine to focus just on CP.
  • Type. Each Pokémon has a type, such as “Flying,” “Bug,” or “Water,” that determines what other types it is weak and strong against.
  • Moves. In Go, each Pokémon has two moves, a standard move and a special move. Each move also has a type.

Improving a Pokémon’s stats

Pokémon in Go don’t have levels and experience points like they do in other Pokémon games, but they can still be made stronger with your help. There are two ways to improve your Pokémon’s stats: give it a Power Up or, if possible, evolve it into a better version of itself.

Power Ups: A Power Up improves a Pokémon’s CP and HP. To perform a Power Up, you need one thing that is fairly straightforward and another thing that is a bit more complicated. The straightforward thing is Stardust, which you automatically collect any time you catch a Pokémon, and will need a certain amount of for each Power Up. The more complicated thing is Candy, which comes in a different form for each evolutionary Pokémon line. What do we mean by “each evolutionary Pokémon line?” For example, even though Pidgey evolves into Pidgeotto, both simply require Pidgey Candy for Power Ups.

Evolution: Bringing a Pokémon to its next evolutionary step requires only Candy, no Stardust. But you might need to collect a rather large amount of it. For example, to convert Magikarp—a useless fish—into its badass dragon successor Gyarados, you will need a whopping 400 Magikarp Candy.

Evolving gives a Pokémon a big CP boost, and gives your player a good amount of experience. There is one thing to be careful of when evolving: Your Pokémon’s moves will change afterward. So if you have a highly rare Pokémon with your preferred move, it might be worth leaving it as is until you can catch another one.

A quick note on CP: Not all Pokémon were created equal, and it is simply impossible to create an elite squad just by powering up and evolving common rodents like Zubats and Rattatas. Each Pokémon in fact has a CP limit, which you can see if you go into its detail page.

The Pokémon’s current CP level is shown along an arc, and CP cannot go past the end of it. This Beedrill has a modest 130 CP. We could continue to upgrade it, but its max is not all that high, so it’s probably not worth the investment.

As you get to a higher level, you will be able to find Pokémon with higher CP maximums, and rarer Pokémon will generally have higher upper bounds. So be sure you are investing in a Pokémon that will have long-term payoffs.


Types are an important concept in all Pokémon games, and Go is no exception. Each Pokémon and each move has a type. Go appears to use the sixth-generation Pokémon type system, which includes 18 types, such as obvious things like “Water,” “Fire,” and “Lightning,” as well as weird stuff like “Dark” and “Fairy.” Each type is effective against some other types, and resistant to others. For example, Water is extremely effective against Fire, but Grass is resistant to Water, while Grass is vulnerable to Fire, et cetera. The permutations can get a bit weird—”Bug,” for example, is highly effective against “Psychic,” and “Dragon” has no effect whatsoever on “Fairy.”

This chart of the type system should clarify things a bit:


The type of a move does not always correspond to that of its Pokémon. A Dark Pokémon, for example, might be able to perform a Psychic-type move. A dragon might be able to do both Fire and Flying moves. And so on. As you build your team, consult a list of Pokémon types (like this one) and make sure you are not heavily vulnerable to any one type and have a favorable matchup against any possible type. (There are also more out-there strategies like using only Normal-type Pokémon, which have just one vulnerability, but we’ll leave that aside for now.)


In Go, Pokémon have just two moves, a standard move and a special move. When battling, the standard move will be used most of the time, while the special move needs to be charged up over time. Unlike in other games in the series, a Pokémon’s moves can’t be changed, and are assigned randomly. The moves will also change randomly again upon evolution.

Pay attention to a move’s:

  • Damage
  • Energy requirements (special moves only)
  • Type

The damage is just a number that tells you how much hurt it puts on your opponents. Higher energy requirements mean a special move will take longer to prepare. The type is where more strategy is involved, as some Pokémon are able to balance weaknesses of their own type with advantages in their moves.

When deciding which Pokémon is worth your time and effort to train, make sure it has the moves you want first. You can consult a full move list (like this one) to see which moves each Pokémon is capable of learning, so you can determine which is best for your squad. Also keep in mind that you will want a core fighting team of just six Pokémon—the most you can send out against enemies.

Collecting items at PokéStops

Pokémon Go is based on another popular Niantic game called Ingress. Both titles encourage players to explore the world around them, rewarding them with virtual items when they reach real-life landmarks highlighted by the app. In Ingress, these points of interests are called portals; in Pokémon Go, they’re called Pokéstops. Niantic used a small subset of the location data from Ingress as the basis for Pokéstops in Pokémon Go.

Pokéstops are marked on the game’s map with a floating blue cube. Tapping them will show more details about the landmark, including a photo. Players can only collect items if they are close enough to the PokéStop (sometimes this means you can be across the street from it, sometimes this means you have to get right up to it). If the app deems you’re close enough, swipe the image of the landmark to spin it, and it’ll spit out three or more items. When you claim items from a PokéStop, the icon turns from blue to purple, but PokéStops refresh about every five minutes so you can return to collect more items.


For players who are just getting started, most of the items available at PokéStops are Pokéballs and the occasional egg. Eggs, when placed in an egg incubator, will hatch into Pokémon after players have traveled a certain distance. All players start with one egg incubator, and an additional one can be purchased with PokéCoins.

Once players start leveling up, the items available to them at Pokéstops get more special:

  • At level 5, players start collecting Potions, Revive, and Incense. Potions and Revive both aid injured Pokémon. Revive brings Pokémon that have fainted back to life, while Potions heal weak Pokémon by increasing their HP. Incense is used to lure wild Pokémon out.
  • At level 8, players receive Razz Berries and a Lure Module. When Razz Berries are fed to wild Pokémon, they’re less likely to run away and escape Pokéballs. Lure Modules are like incense but more potent and can be attached to PokéStops for 30 minutes, making PokéStops good places to find Pokémon.
  • At level 9, players start getting Lucky Eggs. Using a Lucky Egg doubles players’ experience points within a 30-minute window.
  • At level 12, they’ll collect the more powerful Great Balls, which increase the likelihood of capturing a wild Pokémon.
  • At level 20, they start getting the even more effective Ultra Balls.


Around the Pokémon Go map you will see, in addition the small PokéStops, large structures. These are gyms, and you can access them once you get to level five.

A gym in the distance.

When you enter a gym for the first time, you’ll be asked to swear allegiance to a team, each represented by a color and a characteristic: Yellow (Instinct), Blue (Mystic), and Red (Valor). Selecting a particular team doesn’t appear to make any difference to your individual character, but that could change in future versions of the game.

Each gym is controlled by one of these three teams. Because it is still so early in Pokémon Go, there is a lot of turnover in gym control, particularly in densely populated areas, so don’t worry too much about selecting the “best” team in your area. However, if other massive online games are any guide, dominant political forces will eventually emerge.

There are three ways you can interact with gyms:

  1. Train and test your squad by battling friendly Pokémon in a gym controlled by your team.
  2. Defend a gym controlled by your team by contributing one of your Pokémon to it.
  3. Attack and attempt to take over gyms controlled by opposing teams.

Gym Prestige

Gyms in the Pokémon universe are partly about training, but mostly about cred. The goal is to stake a claim for your team and create a gym that is difficult to defend. Crucial to this in Pokémon Go is the concept of a gym’s prestige, and all three of the things listed above are related to it.

Each gym has a level, which corresponds to the number of Pokémon that can be used to defend it. So a level 5 gym can have five different defending Pokémon.

If your goal is to attack and take over a gym, you will need to reduce its prestige to zero. You will first need to take out all of the Pokémon defending the gym. But that is only the start, as this does not necessarily give the gym over to you; it only reduces its prestige level. You’ll have to keep defeating the entire gym until its prestige gets all the way to zero, at which point the gym will become gray, and you’ll be able to move in.

You can also help fortify gyms belonging to your team by training and testing your Pokémon there. A gym gains prestige for each battle it wins, even if it is against a player of its own team. So you can battle against friendly Pokémon repeatedly until your gym gains another level, which will then open up another defensive spot, and allow you to contribute one of your Pokémon to the gym’s fortification. Keep in mind that whichever Pokémon you leave behind will not be available for anything else unless it gets kicked out of the gym by an enemy team.

Benefits of gyms

The gym system is a bit complicated, and you may be wondering why you should be bothering with it at all. There are two main benefits of interacting with gyms: experience and bonus items.

Each battle you win at a gym gives you XP, which becomes increasingly scarce as you catch all of the most common Pokémon. Also, for each Pokémon you have stored in a gym, you will receive 500 Stardust and 10 PokéCoins once every 24 hours. Aside from using real money, this appears to be the only way in the game to earn PokéCoins.


In Pokémon Go, battles only happen at gyms. If you are training with your Pokémon at a friendly gym, you can select one Pokémon to send out against your teammate. If you are challenging an enemy gym, you can select a squad of six Pokémon that will be sent out in turn.

Battles involve one of your Pokémon facing one of your opponents’. If a Pokémon loses all of its HP and faints, it gets called back. If there are any left, a replacement is unleashed. In battle, you can do one of four things:

  • Standard move: Tap once on the screen. Each tap will execute a standard move.
  • Special move: Watch the blue bar underneath your Pokémon’s HP. As you perform standard moves, it will fill up. One blue block means you can execute a special move, by long pressing on the screen.
  • Dodge: Swipe left or right, or tap the left or right side of the screen to dodge incoming attacks
  • Swap Pokémon: Tap the up-down-arrow button on the bottom-right of the screen to switch the current Pokémon with another one

Important battle tips

Special moves are not always good: It’s tempting to use the special move as soon as it is charged, but if it’s a big one, it might be best to wait until it can be used as a finishing blow. Because the special move will leave you static and unable to dodge, and may have a cool-down time, firing it will open you up to a frenzy of attacks. Also be sure to take advantage by relentlessly attacking your enemies when they are charging up a special.

Practice dodging: In your first battles, you’ll probably just tap furiously away at the attack buttons, and this is probably a decent strategy if your Pokémon has a much higher CP than its opponent. But in order to win close battles, or battles where you are the underdog, you will need to get good at dodging, particularly at dodging big special attacks.

Know your enemy: As we explained in the types section, an important concept in Pokémon is knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. Before going into battle, be sure to check your enemy’s type and use or train Pokémon that have type advantages over the opposing team.

Swap for types: Swapping out a Pokémon leaves it vulnerable to attack for a few seconds, so you may be hesitant to do it. But if you can swap for a type mismatch, like bringing out a Water Pokémon against a Fire enemy, it will be worth it so long as their CPs are close.

You don’t have to go it alone: You can join up with other members of your team when battling to take over enemy gyms. Your teammate can attack the same enemy Pokémon as you, and you can make your way through the enemy gym together.

Don’t let the Pokémon you want to leave at the gym faint: If you successfully take a gym, you won’t be able to leave behind a fainted Pokémon to defend it. So make sure your preferred choice survives the battle.

Healing your embattled Pokémon

Rather tediously, Pokémon Go does not have the lovely Pokémon Centers of other games in the series, where your Pokémon all get instantly healed. You will need to use two types of items to heal your Pokémon after battle:

  • Revive: Wake up a Pokémon that has fainted.
  • Potions: Restore a specific amount of a Pokémon’s HP:
    • Potion: 20 HP
    • Super Potion: 50 HP
    • Hyper Potion: 200 HP

These items can be picked up at PokéStops, while the stronger potions are only available to players at higher levels.

The end, for now

We are still in the early stages of Pokémon Go knowledge. There are many unanswered questions, such as, “Does tossing a spinning Pokéball increase the chances of a successful capture?” But this guide will be enough to give you an edge over your friends and neighbors.


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