From Facebook to presidential campaigns to our economic climate, it was an eventful year for board games. I’ve long since stopped bothering to check how many papers say that board games “are making a comeback.” They’ve been “making a comeback” for going on 18 years now, so it’s gotten old.

It’s just funny how the continued pervasiveness of board and card games in people’s lives always strikes them as surprising, even as they’re dealing a hand of Poker, catching a round of Chess with their grandfather, shooting dice in a park, or shuffling through the latest Pokemon cards. Yeah. Making a comeback. Tell that to the billions of people who play games around a table top or floor every week of their lives.

Here’s our pick of top stories for board and card games in 2008.

Maybe next year: Just as they did in 2007, in 2008 Hasbro announced that some of its board games were to become movies. In particular, it was confirmed that Ridley Scott would direct a movie based on the game Monopoly. We’re still waiting.

20. Chess boxing gets noticed

Chess boxing is a strange combination of the most physical and most mental of activities, which perhaps explains its allure to a growing niche fan base. In Chess boxing, players alternate rounds of boxing and Chess. It’s been around since 2003, but this year the mainstream press picked it up, and it also received some attention from FIDE.

Expect its popularity to grow next year.

19. Dice gamers shot in Montreal, riots ensue

In August, 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was shot and killed by police while playing dice. Two others were also wounded.  The event sparked a night of rioting, torched and broken cars, propane tank fireballs, Molotov cocktails, broken windows, and protests across certain parts of the city.

In December, both officers involved in the shooting were cleared of all charges; symbolic dice games were held in public places in protest.

Dicing is illegal in Montreal, according to one of its many, many bylaws. Critics of the police say that some of these bylaws are only enforced in order to harass the poor and minorities. Around the world, cities, counties, and countries are wrestling with public gambling laws. In South Carolina, whether or not poker is primarily skill or luck is now going to court.

18. Earthlings play the astronauts

NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff and fellow crew played a series of Chess games against all the mission control centers that support the space station orbiting Earth at around five miles per second. The centers took turns making moves against Greg as he came within radio contact with them.

Greg is still up there playing games against us Earthlings, which you can follow online. Our side in the current game includes school children across the US.

17. Computer beats human at poker

Fresh from providing the world with an unbeatable Checkers program last year (Chinook), Professor Jonathan Schaeffer of the University of Alberta turned his sights to poker. His group’s program Polaris took on the world’s best in a Man vs Machine Poker Championship in a series of duplicate poker.

Polaris barely lost the first matchup, but won the second. One more human area of dominance hits the dust.

16. Obama and McCain’s game habits

Both of the front runners in the campaign were taken to task for their gambling styles. Actually, we already knew that McCain plays Craps and Obama plays Poker. In a two-year campaign, this apparently matters on a slow news day. We spent some time getting to know what they play, and why it will affect the economy and foreign relations should they get elected.

15. Password and Trivial Pursuit game shows

It’s been a while since a board game became a game show (because most of them fail; remember the Monopoly game show? I thought not), but this year it happened twice.

Password was once a parlor game. It became a popular game show in the 60s and 70s , and then a board game. This year it returned as a new show, Million Dollar Password. And promptly became a board game again.

Trivial Pursuit was actually a short lived game show in the 90s. Now it has returned as a show called Trivial Pursuit America Plays.

Why now? Probably because of the success of reality television programs like Survivor, which are in fact big fat game shows.

14. Bakugan

Bakugan is a collectible game that’s a cross between Transformers, marble,s and Yu-Gi-Oh. Of course, it’s Japanese and of course it’s based on an anime series. It’s also soon to be a movie.

According to many media sources, it’s one of the hot toys this year. None of these sources actually indicated where this “hotness” information came from, other than vague rumors from other media sources or the say-so of a local store owner. So it remains to be seen if this is actually true or just hype from Bakugan’s PR department.

13. Wizkids, Sababa, … close down

A number of institutions went bankrupt or closed up shop in 2008. Among them were Sababa Toys, makers of Front Porch Classics and some licensed versions of UNO, and Wizkids, makers of Heroclix and Battletech. These product lines moved to other companies.

KB Toys, a large American toy retailer, also announced a liquidation sale in time for the holiday season. Toys ‘R Us showed a severe loss in Q3. Mattel was still reeling from the lead poisoning scare of last year.

12. Viswanathan Anand and Alexandra Kosteniuk

Viswanathan Anand is known as the “Tiger from Madras”. He won the World Chess championship, and his success is inspiring an entire generation of Indian chess players.

Meanwhile, Russian Alexandra Kosteniuk won the Woman’s Chess championship, while somehow also managing to be a part-time model, movie star, podcaster, webmaster, and poet. Her success is inspiring a generation of woman Chess players.

11. Games in schools, libraries, prisons, and urban communities

Throughout the year, we heard reports about new game programs being introduced to school systems (ten Chess boards were sent to every school in the UK, school Chess clubs are thriving around the US), libraries (the ALA started a national day for gaming at libraries), and prisons (Chess in prisons is said to have a good effect on prisoner behavior).

Hip hop is also pushing Chess in inner city environments, as a way of keeping kids out of trouble and to increase kid’s concentration, reason, social and thinking skills. The Hip Hop Chess Federation has celebrity support.

10. Dominoes with celebrities

Celebrities came out of the woodwork to attend Dominoes tournaments and fundraisers. The list of celebrity players is growing quickly.

Eva Longoria and Posh Spice opened a cafe with space for playing Dominoes. Daya Fernandez and Inge Theron, regulars at Salma Hayek’s game nights, created a celebrity version of the game called Hollywood Dominoes.

9. Monopoly World Edition

Monopoly, always on the lookout for a way to pump more interest in its game titles, and following several years of introducing new versions of Monopoly for different countries, this year solicited votes from around the world for spaces on its World version of the game.

It was a marketing success, marred only by two problems. In the middle of voting, Jerusalem lost is country name after complaints from pro-Palestinian quarters. Two days later Hasbro dropped all country names after a much larger outpouring of complaints from pro-Israeli quarters. In the end, Hasbro pleaded with everyone to just let them be game-makers and keep politics out of it.

The only other problem: where the heck is Gdynia?

8. Gen Con goes bankrupt

Gen Con, one of the largest and oldest gaming conventions, hit some rough spots this year. It filed for chapter 11, leaving a number of creditors unhappy. Through some backroom dealings, Gen Con 2008 Indianapolis went ahead as planned, and at least one of the lawsuits was postponed.

7. Scrabble’s 60th

Hasbro and Mattel spent all year hyping Scrabble‘s 60th birthday, including a giant tile installation in London, an expensive crystal set for auction, and a new “diamond” edition of the game.

These efforts, combined with the new online versions of the game on social networking sites, helped push Scrabble to the top selling board game in the UK by the end of the year. Sets are flying off the shelves.

6. Board Games on the XBox, dice rolling on Iphone

This year’s hottest video games were board games.

Riding on the success of Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne that came to the XBox at the end of 2007, dozens of titles were released for the XBox and/or IPhone by the end of the year, including several Hasbro games, classic games such as Chess, Reversi, and Shogi, Ticket to Ride, and Scrabble, of course.

IPhone games were helped by technologies that let you simulate actual dice rolling by means of physically shaking your phone, such as MotionX and Mach Dice.

5. Passing on: Bobby Fischer, Gary Gygax

Bobby Fischer was a Chess legend whose match against Russia in 1972 had world-shaking political consequences. Unfortunately, his subsequent anti-Semitic and anti-American antics made his loss this year more of a relief than a tragedy for some.

Gary Gygax, father of role-playing games, remained level-headed until the very end. Gary’s influence extended to nearly every facet of immersible video and fantasy board gaming.

4. Controversial board games

Don’t Drop the Soap made fun of prison rape: har har. It’s included on this list not simply because it’s controversial. This one was created by the son of Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius and allegedly sold from the governor’s mansion. Some people speculated that this might have been a factor in the governor not being considered as Obama’s VP running mate.

The War on Terror game isn’t new to 2008, but it made news by getting confiscated, along with other dangerous items such as a bicycle repair kit and crayons, by a UK police raid at an environmental protest in August.

3. The World Mind Sports Games

This year, board games made it to the Olympics. You in the Western hemisphere may not have noticed, but ten million people a day tuned into the first World Mind Sports Games which was held in Beijing after the traditional Olympics was finished. 143 countries participated in five games: Chess, Go, Checkers, Bridge, and XiangQi (Chinese Chess).

The event was held under the auspices of the International Olympics Committee, to give it an air of respectability. Instead, it brought with it the requirement that all participants had to undergo doping tests. Board gamers, who could not possibly play better on steroids, had to pee into cups before and after games. The ridiculous then reached its sublime heights when, in December, one player refused to pee into a cup after an official Chess match and is now subject to a two year ban from chess for doping (refusing automatically equals failure). Really, how hard is it to add a clause to the IOC rules that doping tests don’t apply to mind games?

2. Scrabulous, Hasbro, and Mattel

Rajat  and Jayant Agarwalla posted their game Scrabulous onto Facebook and millions of people began playing a game that was similar to Scrabble online. This contributed to a sharp increase in Scrabble sales around the world. This was something Hasbro and Mattel could have done, but didn’t.

Naturally, Hasbro and Mattel thanked the designers by suing them for copyright and trademark infringement. Then they belatedly put their own, poorer, versions on Facebook. Worse: since Mattel and Hasbro can’t agree on licensing, those outside of North America can’t play against those inside of North America.

The Indian brothers returned with two different versions of the same game with slightly different colors and extra rules, prompting Hasbro to drop the lawsuit. Mattel’s suit is still pending.

1. It’s Board Games On Everyone’s Holiday List

A poor economy leads to cutbacks in spending on everything except the inexpensive and durable: aka toys and tabletop games. Board and card games are flying off the shelves around the world this holiday season, since they offer great value for the buck, are a gift for multiple people at once, and can be shared with family members of all ages.

Newspapers published dozens of board game buyer’s guides. Many of them listed the tried, tired, and true, such as Monopoly and Scrabble, but others went all out with recommendations for the best board games available on the planet. Isn’t it time you caught up with the times and tried The Settlers of Catan?