Board and card games did fine in 2009, just as they have been doing for at least the last 19 years. During the last two decades, video games exploded into popularity, but their popularity is currently leveling off, or perhaps slightly diminishing; In comparison, it looks like board games are now “making a comeback”, but they never actually went anywhere (at least, not according to the sales figures).

Today’s board and card games are becoming harder to distinguish from video and electronic games. Many board and card games come with electronic components, come in hand-held versions, or are playable on your video console, in either traditional or enhanced versions.

The distinguishing factors between video and board games are disappearing. There are board games with real-time elements, where the object is to shoot as fast as you can, or that can be played remotely with many other players. Several companies are working on electronic tabletops, where the board and pieces are projected onto the surface, displayed on the surface, or augmented reality.

I guess the biggest distinguishing factor is still: is the cleanup and computation handled by the players or by a computer?

Here’s our pick of the top twenty stories for board and card games in 2009.

Maybe next year: Just as they did in 2007 and 2008, we heard a lot of noise from Hasbro and Mattel about board game turning into movies: Monopoly, Ouija, Battleship, etc. We heard about directors, producers, and scripts associated with several of these projects. But the movies are still not here. And we’re still waiting.

20. Hasbro and Games Workshop battle their customers

Both Hasbro and Games Workshop acted to prevent their fans from redistributing what they considered infringing materials, and in the process they both received some online customer backlash.

Hasbro sued eight people who were copying their PDF products, which was understandable, but then they went ahead and demanded that all retailers, everywhere, stop selling any of their PDF products, even the legal ones. Which made the only available copies the illegal ones. Several other companies responded to this move by discounting their own PDF products.

Games Workshop continued to try to retain absolute control over its product line, and asked for the removal of hundreds of fan contributed projects on Board Game Geek. Many of the products did not compete with GW or even use GW trademarked material, but were simply fan enhancements and variants to the game products. BGG users responded by sinking the ratings of GW’s flagship board game, Space Hulk.

19. Bailout and crunch games

No major world event passes without someone making what they think is an original, clever, and ironic statement about it in the form of a board game. Along with several versions of Obamaopoly, actual games from this year include Crunch (by the makers of War on Terror), The Bailout Game, Credit Crunch, Charge Large (which actually predates the current economic crisis, but got picked up this year by Hasbro), and others …

18. 60th anniversary of Clue and Candyland

Hasbro celebrated Scrabble’s 60th birthday last year in style. This year they rolled out the multicolored carpet for Candyland (among other efforts, they turned a street in San Fransisco into a mockup of the game) and Cluedo (with the release of Secrets and Spies, an edition with text messaging incorporated into the game play).

Strangely, the 60th anniversary of Cootie passed without notice.

17. The convention scene

Last year GenCon filed for bankruptcy, and, with a down economy, attendance at GenCon was expected to be down, as well. But this was not the case. GenCon attracted 27,000 people, nearly as many as the previous year, and attendance was good at nearly all of the other conventions.

The Chicago Toy and Game fair, Mary Couzin’s American Essen, was outstandingly run and attended, and the real Essen in Germany was no slouch either. Attendance at the Eurogame players’ BGG.con, the little boy in the pool, was also up (to 920), as it has been every year since it started.

16. Monopoly City

Hasbro churns out many Monopoly clones each year, but the last few years have each seen at least one “major” new release. This year’s release was Monopoly City, a game board with 3D buildings you can build on it. The game’s roll-out was marketed using an MMOG called Monopoly City Streets that was not completely supported and which lasted only a few months, as well as the occasional buzz about the upcoming Monopoly movie.

15. Twilight New Moon / Scene It

While not groundbreaking in terms of mechanics, or an original theme, the Twilight games Scene It and New Moon were must-haves for the built-in movie and book audience, an audience which currently dominates the tween media market. More blog and press articles were written about these games than any other games this year, with the exception of Monopoly City.

14. World Series of Poker

This year’s WSOP was won by a 21 year old after a tightly contested and thrilling poker season finale full of memorable characters. Poker in the US is riding a big wave of interest, which, given the economic climate, is not a huge surprise.

In the meantime, states around the country continued to grapple with whether or not poker is a game of gambling or of skill (and therefore subject to random arrests by bored police forces), and whether or not to allow Indian casinos to offer it in exchange for a share of the revenues. As usual.

13. Geek dating

Nerds at Heart, Playdate, Game Night Out, and other organizations sprung up this year to cater to the geek singles crowd, offering the chance to hang together in groups over coffee and tables full of games. Board game dating turns out to be a cheaper, friendlier, and more social experience than bars, movies, or restaurants.

12. Kasparov/Karpov rematch

25 years after an historic Chess match, Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov met for a celebratory rematch. The games were speed Chess (hey, these guys are getting old). Kasparov once again ended on top.

In other chess news, the Chess Federation continued to spar with Susan Polgar and her husband Paul Truong, eventually evicting them from the Federation’s board.

11. RTL Games folds

RTL was not the first and not the last game company to go bankrupt this year, but, like it’s rise to glory, it seemed to do it in such a spectacularly public way. CEO Rachel Lowe blamed the bankruptcy on cash flow problems owing to the high cost of the Harry Potter license, followed by a long delay in the release of the movie. Others claimed that her Destination game product line and her business plans weren’t all that good.

It’s still true that the quickest way to make a little money in the game industry is to start with a lot of money.

10. The Game Crafter

Lulu for games, TGC provides print on demand board and card games. They have a large assortment of pieces to choose from; you upload the rules and graphics for the board and cards. As of today, the site has over a hundred games, some of which look quite good.

Board games 2.0.

9. Brathwaite’s Train

Brenda Brathwaite is a major force in the video game world, and not the first to explore games that are not “fun”. But her board game Train was the catalyst for a provocative discussion about games and art that still rages today.

Train is a game that you’re not expected to play more than once; in fact, you’re supposed to quit the game half-way through. The “rules”: try to load as many meeples as you can into the train cars as they roll off to their destination, which you learn later in the game is Auschwitz.

The point? That’s still up for debate. Does it trivialize the Holocaust? Help people understand the psychological distance that the Nazis had while exterminating the Jews? Is it art? The conversation continues.

8. Yu-Gi-Oh sells a lot of cards

22,000,000,000. 22 billion. That’s how many Yu-Gi-Oh cards that Konami claims have been sold, to date (Pokemon comes in at a scant 14 billion). That’s a lot of cardboard crack.

Speaking of Yu-Gi-Oh and Konami, they won a high-profile battle against Upper Deck early in the year for control of the license.

Elsewhere in the CCG world, Chaotic CCG continued to succeed against the odds, as did Epic CCG. That’s in contrast to two high-profile failures: Vs System, which I had though was actually doing well, and Bleach which was DOA. No one outside of Hasbro one knows how many Magic: the Gathering cards have been sold, but WotC continued to release sets, overhauled both the core rules and the release system, and added new mechanics in the form of Planechase cards.

7. Mattel and lead testing

Mattel ended the year with various Barbie doll releases (including a black doll that critics say wasn’t “black enough”), but we prefer to think of them as the arrogant idiots who sold games tainted with lead, forcing the government to introduce the troublesome CPSC lead level testing standards, and then managed to wiggle their way into being exempted from these very tests. Their agreeing to pay a fine to settle the issue didn’t do much to assuage us.

6. Farmville

Like last year, board and card games continued to dominate online play. Despite the billions spent trying to sell you another Grand Theft Auto or Halo game, most people prefer to play Solitaire and Bejewled.

Late in the year we discovered that Zynga’s Farmville, a civ-building strategy board game on Facebook had over 65 million users, which is by far the most active application on the site. Another sign that video games and board games are, essentially, converging.

5. Bakugan

Bakugan was introduced last year, but it came into its own this year. Bakugan products took top spots on several top ten gift lists, Bakugan ultimate battle tours were held around the US, and a new Bakugan championship series was recently announced.

Battle Strikers is a possible contender next year.

4. Mainstream media game pimping

Many, many, many mainstream articles pimped board and card games as recession proof family fun, while covering the resurgence of game nights and stay-cations. For the most part, that meant pimping the latest Hasbro games, but they did, occasionally, branch out.

At the beginning of the year, Wired called Settlers of Catan the Monopoly Killer. At the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal documented its viral spread in the Silicon Valley area.

Another Eurogame that got a lot of press, partially as a result of the Swine Flu outbreak, was Pandemic, a nifty cooperative game about fighting infections. FITS and Dominion also made it into a few gift guides.

3. Toys R Us ramps up

A big winner this year was Toys R Us. After winning a lawsuit against Amazon (who sold others’ toys and games on their site, despite an agreement to give Toys R Us exclusive license to do so), TRU went out and bought the remaining assets of KB Toys, The Parent Company (including, and FAO Schwartz.

2. Hasbro takes Sesame Street and Marvel

Hasbro also acquired a few nifty licenses: the Marvel universe (Disney bought Marvel after the Hasbro bought the licensing for it), and Sesame Street, right out of Mattel’s hands. Both of these will fit in with Hasbro’s new multi-media directions, including movies and television.

1. Mindflex

Mindflex is the success of the year, as well as the most intriguing mesh of new technology and toys. Use your hands to move an air blower around and beneath a circular obstacle course. But use your brain power (by means of a headset) to raise or lower the air flow to the blower. The blower holds a ball in the air, which you have to pass through loops and hoops on the course.

Retailing at $120, it was selling for as low as $70 before the holiday rush, at which point you were lucky to get your hands on one for less than $250. Expect the prices to return to sane sometime in January.

Uncle Milton has their own game based on mind control, Star Wars Force Trainer. Unfortunately, it looks pretty lame in comparison to Mindflex. Retails at $120, and selling for $50.